Adventure is a state of mind—and spirit.
Jacqueline Cochran

At BELONG we often talk about identifying your gifts and living out your purpose. In honor of Women’s History Month, we’d like to introduce you to women you may not have heard of who did just that.

You never know when a casual comment will change your life. By 1932, Jacqueline Cochran had already achieved success as a highly sought-after New York City hairdresser—and this was during the Depression. Not bad for a girl who was born into poverty, learned her trade as a teen sweeping floors at a small-town Florida beauty shop, and who previously tried (and rejected) a career in nursing.

But Jacqueline wasn’t satisfied; she thought she could expand her business by selling cosmetics on the road. She floated that idea to a man she met at a dinner party; he suggested she learn to fly. So she did. Her dinner party companion (and future husband) was right: it was good for business. Jacqueline Cochran Cosmetics thrived; she named her line “Wings” and flew her own plane around the country promoting her products.

Adding a passion for flying to her passions for beauty and fashion, Jackie started entering and winning air races. When war loomed on the horizon, Jackie started thinking of ways women pilots could help the war effort. She sent her proposal directly to Eleanor Roosevelt, who put her in touch with an Army Air Force General . . . but he pooh-poohed Jackie’s ideas.

Discouraged but not defeated, Jackie went back to winning races and setting records. In 1941, she became the first women to pilot a bomber across the Atlantic Ocean. Eventually the General came around and Jackie was appointed to direct the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program. The program began in 1943 with 25 women pilots hand-picked by Jackie; by 1945 more than 1,000 had earned their wings. Jackie would go on to become the first woman to receive the Distinguished Service Medal for her efforts.

That’s just one of Jackie’s many firsts and awards: she was also the first woman to break the sound barrier, fly a jet across the Atlantic, and take off and land from an aircraft carrier. She set a world speed of 842 mph. According to the National Aviation Hall of Fame, Jackie was the first living woman inducted into their organization and at the time of her death in 1980, she held more speed, altitude and distance records than anyone in the world…male or female.

It’s an impressive legacy, but remember: Jackie started as a teenager sweeping hair off a beauty shop floor.

How are you making history today?