Forgotten Women is a series dedicated to giving women of history the exposure they deserve. Jerrie Mock was the first woman to fly around the world alone, wearing tights, heels and pearls, in a plane called Charlie.
On 19 March 1964, Jerrie Mock made aviation history when she became the first solo female pilot to circumnavigate the world. Twenty-seven years previously in 1937, Amelia Earhart had attempted the same feat, and disappeared over the Pacific in the process.
Geraldine – known as Jerrie – Mock was born in Newark, Ohio, in 1925. A childhood flight in the cockpit of a plane had Mock declaring she wanted to be a pilot when she grew up. She went on to study aeronautical engineering at the University of Ohio but left the course in 1945 to get married, because that’s what women did back then. Her husband was an amateur pilot, and in 1956 Mock began flying lessons, getting her pilot’s licence two years later.
In 1962, Mock decided she was bored of being a housewife and would follow the flight path of her heroine, Amelia Earhart. She’d only had her licence for a few years, and had never even flown over an ocean.
Her plane, the Spirit of Columbus (nicknamed Charlie), set off from Ohio and went on to the Azores, Morocco, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, where she accidentally landed on a military airfield. The plane was searched for the man who must surely be piloting it; when it was discovered she was a woman flying alone, the searchers broke into applause.
She flew on to India, then Hawaii, then back to her starting point of Ohio. In 29 days, 11 hours and 59 minutes, Mock flew 23,103 miles. She made 21 landings. She also made history.
The press lapped up the novelty of a female pilot. Mock was given the moniker ‘the flying housewife’. It was reported she flew her plane in a skirt, and kicked off her heels once airborne. Mock recounted the outfit she had worn during the flight – a blue skirt and jacket, white drip-dry blouse, a pearl necklace, tights and heels. For 29 days.
Mock was awarded a gold medal at a White House ceremony and that same year appeared on the gameshow To Tell The Truth, in which she was asked by a male panellist, “You left your husband alone for 29 days… who cleaned up the house and all?” (Watch it on YouTube, as Mock answers with a raised eyebrow that “his mother came”.)
The late Sixties saw Mock go on to set more than 20 flight records, and later chronicle her adventures in her book Three-Eight Charlie.
Why was she a trailblazer?
Mock put it best herself when she told a newspaper, “I was never going to abide by man-made laws that said women couldn’t do something […] I knew one thing: I wanted to see the world.”
What influence has she left behind today?
Looking back on her achievement, Mock said, “There were women who told me that they flew because of me. I’m glad I did what I did, because I had a wonderful time.”
Illustration: Bijoi Carmen. Other image: Getty Images