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Bragg, Janet (24 March 1907–11 April 1993), aviator, nurse, and nursing home proprietor, was born Janet Harmon in Griffin, Georgia, the daughter of Cordia Batts Harmon and Samuel Harmon, a brick contractor. The Batts family had long been established in Griffin. Bragg's maternal grandfather was a freed slave of Spanish descent, and her maternal grandmother was a Cherokee. Bragg's grandfather had built the house in which she and her siblings were born; her mother had been born in the same house. Bragg, the youngest of seven children, had a happy childhood, enjoying sports and games and excelling at school. In an interview conducted at the University of Arizona as part of a project called African Americans in Aviation in Arizona, Bragg reminisced: “We were a very happy family. We were not a rich family, only rich in love.”...

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Brown, Willa (22 January 1906–18 July 1992), pilot and aviation educator, was born Willa Beatrice Brown in Glasgow, Kentucky, the only daughter of Hallie Mae Carpenter Brown and Eric B. Brown, a farm owner. After 1910 the family, as part of the internal migration of African Americans from the rural South to northern cities, moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, hoping for greater opportunities in employment and education. There her father worked in a creosote factory; he was also pastor of the Holy Triumphant Church in 1920 and the Free Church of God in 1929....

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Chennault, Claire Lee (06 September 1893–27 July 1958), military officer and airline executive, was born in Commerce, Texas, the son of John Stonewall Jackson Chennault, a small-scale cotton grower, and Jessie Lee. Chennault grew up on a small farm in Franklin Parish in northeastern Louisiana. His mother died when he was eight years old. Two years later, his father married Lottie Barnes, a local schoolteacher. Educated in the nearby town of Gilbert, he entered Louisiana State University in 1909. Shortly thereafter, his stepmother, who had persuaded him to continue his education, died. “I was alone again,” he later wrote, “and really never found another companion whom I could so completely admire, respect, and love.”...

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Cochran, Jacqueline (1910?–09 August 1980), pioneer aviator and business executive, was born in Muscogee, Florida, near Pensacola. Her parents both died during her infancy, and she was raised by foster families with whom she worked in the lumber mills of the Florida panhandle. By the age of fifteen she had also worked in a Columbus, Georgia, cotton mill and learned how to cut hair in a beauty shop. Cochran took nursing training at a hospital in Montgomery, Alabama, from 1925 to 1928, but by 1930 she had returned to Pensacola to work in a beauty salon. In 1932 she traveled to Philadelphia to work in a beauty shop and then moved in the same year to New York City, where her skill earned her a job at Antoine’s, a well-known Saks Fifth Avenue beauty shop. For the next four years she worked for this business, spending every winter working in Antoine’s branch in Miami Beach, Florida. She met ...

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Earhart, Amelia Mary (24 July 1897– July 1937), aviator, was born in Atchison, Kansas, the daughter of Edwin Stanton Earhart, a railroad clerk and lawyer, and Amy Otis. Earhart spent her early childhood living with her affluent grandparents in Atchison during the school year and her parents in Kansas City in the summer. A tomboy during her youth, Earhart was a leader of childhood games in her neighborhood. Her father was handsome and loving but drifted through low-paying clerk jobs and was dependent on his wife’s family for sufficient living expenses. Following the deaths of Earhart’s grandparents, the Earharts’ inheritance was put in a trust for twenty years, driving her father to despair and drink. Family life deteriorated during her teenage years as her father battled alcoholism and worked sporadically throughout the Midwest, moving his family to a series of low-rent homes....

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Nichols, Ruth Rowland (23 February 1901–25 September 1960), aviation pioneer, was born in New York City, the daughter of Erickson Norman Nichols and Edith Corlis Haines. Nichols’s father was a member of the New York Stock Exchange and sent his daughter to exclusive private schools. She graduated from Miss Masters’ School at Dobbs Ferry, New York, and from Wellesley College in 1924. An average student, Nichols was interested in athletics and other strenuous activities. She was encouraged in these endeavors by her father, who had an adventurous spirit himself, having joined the Rough Riders under ...

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Omlie, Phoebe Jane Fairgrave (21 November 1902–17 July 1975), aviator, was born in Des Moines, Iowa, the daughter of Andrew Fairgrave and Madge Traistor (or Traister). Phoebe Fairgrave graduated from Mechanic Arts High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1920 and began work as a stenographer in a downtown business office. Within weeks she made a decision that would determine the course of her life: she wanted to earn a living in the aviation business. To begin this venture, she visited the Curtiss Northwest Company at a St. Paul airfield, which was offering civilian flight training in a surplus Curtiss JN-4D Jenny, and asked for her first airplane ride. Reluctant pilots laughed and walked away, until one agreed to take her up. Encouraged by his friends to shake her up a bit, the pilot instead succeeded in further whetting her appetite for flying. She promptly bought the aircraft with a $3,500 inheritance from her grandfather and began to learn the art of parachute jumping, reasoning that this was her best avenue into aviation. Aerial barnstorming acts were the most visible aviation business and about the only one open to women. Her first jump was made on 17 April 1921, and only three months later, on 10 July, she set a women’s altitude record by jumping from 15,200 feet. With stunt pilot Glenn Messer, she established the Fairgrave and Messer Flying Circus and learned a repertoire of aerial acts, including wingwalking, trapeze work from the wings and landing gear, double parachute jumps (cutting away the first parachute, freefalling, and opening a second chute), and air-to-air and ground-to-air transfers. Stunt work for the movies included a part in ...