Her foster family was very poor and the living conditions were very bad for Jackie. She had wanted to run away from her impoverished home and join the circus, but never did.
Throughout her life she had a love for the circus and when she was an adult rode the lead elephant in the opening of the Ringling Brothers Circus in Madison Square Gardens. When she was in the third grade, Jackie was mentored and treated kindly by her teacher, Miss Bostwick. When Miss Bostwick left the school, Jackie quit and never returned. Although she only had a third-grade education, Jackie continued to read, but she had difficulty spelling and writing legibly.
Jackie began working at the age of 8. She stayed in the homes of women who had recently given birth and cared for them and their families. While working in the homes, she learned how to cook and developed a talent for preparing excellent meals, which she continued to do throughout her life. At the age of 14, she left home and moved to Montgomery, Alabama. She obtained a job as an operator of a permanent wave machine in a beauty salon. When she was twenty years old, she moved to New York and worked for the Antoine Salon. She travelled to Miami Beach to serve the customers of the salon who wintered there.
In 1932, Jackie Cochran started taking flying lessons at Roosevelt Field on Long Island. When she began taking the lessons she said, “a beauty operator ceased to started and an aviator was born.” On the third day of her lessons, she soloed. She obtained her license in two and a half weeks. After receiving her license, she bought a Travelair plane and began taking additional flying lessons from Ted Marshall, a Navy pilot.
In 1934, she received a commercial pilot’s license. In the same year, she entered the MacRobertson Race from London, England to Melbourne, Australia, a 12,000 mile-race. The prize was $50,000, which Cochran desperately wanted to win. Although she did not win the race, she won the first leg. In 1935, she founded the Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetic Company with a factory in Roselle, New Jersey and an office in New York. The money she earned from this successful business helped finance the races she entered.
In 1935, she entered the Bendix, which was a cross-country race from Los Angeles to Cleveland, Ohio. No women had ever competed in this prestigious race. Cochran and the famous aviator, Amelia Earhart were denied their initial application to enter the race on the grounds that the race was for men only. Cochran protested, she said, “I can’t give up. If I concede on this, women will be barred from racing for years, maybe even forever.” She succeeded in her protest and an agreement was signed that allowed Cochran and Earhart to compete in the race. Cochran’s plane had mechanical problems during the race and she had to withdraw. Earhart came in fifth. Although Cochran did not finish the race, she had won a victory. Because of her, women could now compete in the Bendix race. Cochran later won first place in the women’s division of the Bendix and 3rd place overall in 1937 and first place in 1938. Because of their mutual love for flying, Earhart and Cochran became close friends.
On 11th of May, 1936, Cochran married Floyd Odlum and they had a home in California called Cochran-Odlum Ranch, an apartment in Manhattan and an estate in Connecticut. Cochran finally had a home of her own that she longed for as a child. She also established an orphanage near her New York apartment.
In 1937, Cochran flew from New York to Miami in a record-breaking 4 hours and 12 minutes. In 1939, she set a new altitude and international speed record and became the first woman to make a blind landing. She received the Clifford Burke Harmon Trophy as the outstanding woman flier in the world in 1938, 1939 and 1940. In 1940, she broke the 2,000 kilometer international speed record. During World War II, she organized 25 women to fly for Great Britain and became the first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic. She received the Distinguished Service Medal for her services during the War.
In 1943, she was appointed to the staff of the US Army Air Forces and director of Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). In 1953, she became the first woman pilot to break the sound barrier. Between 1962-64, she established sixty-nine intercity and straight-line distance jet records. She also set nine international speed, distance and altitude jet records. In 1971, she was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame with the words, “To Jacqueline Cochran, for outstanding contributions to aviation by her devotion to the advancement of the role of women in all of its aspects, and by establishing new performance records that advanced aeronautics, this award is most solemnly and respectfully dedicated.” In 1975, she became the first woman to be honoured at the US Air Force Academy with a permanent display of her memorabilia.
Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran died on 7th August, 1980. On the 9th May 1996, in Indio, California, the United States Post Office issued the Jacqueline Cochran stamp in the denomination of fifty cents. The stamp has her pictured in aviator gear with the words: “Jacqueline Cochran Pioneer Pilot.”