Today in Feminist History: Jacqueline Cochran: Faster than Sound! (May 18, 1953)

Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.

May 18, 1953: Jacqueline Cochran has just become the first woman to fly faster than the speed of sound—and that wasn’t the end of her record-breaking day.

Cochran talking to test pilot Major Chuck Yeager earlier today.

She broke the sound barrier using two steep dives, leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind that she’d accomplished her goal, because ground observers clearly heard a “sonic boom” on the second attempt.

But adding supersonic flight to her already impressive list of feats wasn’t her only accomplishment today at Edwards Air Force Base in California. She also flew faster over a 100-kilometer circular course than any pilot—male or female—has ever done, at 652 miles an hour.

Though the old record she shattered belonged to a man, it was not a “battle of the sexes” in the usual sense. Colonel Fred Ascani, who flew an equivalent course near Detroit at 635 miles an hour in August, 1951, is actually a good friend of hers. When she told him she would like to surpass his speed, he suggested the legendary aviator use her considerable influence to borrow the Canadian version of the Sabre Jet, which has a more powerful engine than the one he used. She took his advice—and his record.


David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.