Amelia Earhart's Daughters: The Wild And Glorious Story Of American Women Aviators From World War II To The Dawn Of The Space Age

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In 1942, with war raging on two fronts and military pilots in short supply, the U.S. Army Air Force enlisted a handful of skilled female aviators to deliver military planes from factories to air bases—expanding the successful program to include more than one thousand women. These superb pilots flew every aircraft in the U.S. Army Air Force—including B-26s when men were afraid to—logging more than siz million miles in all kinds of weather. yet when World War II ended, their wartime heroism was left unheralded.

In 1961, with the dawn of the space age, a handful of top female pilots took part in a new program termed "Women in Space." Subjected to the same rigorous tests as the Mercury astronauts, thirteen women—top-notch pilots—were admitted to the program. Once again women had reason to dream...that at least oneof them would be the first of their sex in space. The matter went as far as Congress, where dramatic hearings included testimony from astronauts John Glenn and Scott Carpenter. But their hopes were dashed. These skilled aviators had the "right stuff" at the wrong time, and again women were denied their place in history. This is their story, one of courage, ferocity, adn patriotism.

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Editorial Reviews

Lucinda Roy
Far reaching in its scope, profound in its implications, this story reminds us of women we should never have forgotten in the first place. After reading it, we will never forget them.
— Lucinda Roy, author of The Hotel Alleluia and Lady Moses
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380729845
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 7/1/2000
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.79 (d)

Read an Excerpt


The man is not the kind who'd usually attract much notice. He has a faded look about him, the look of a man who has accepted that it is his lot in life to work hard for little reward. And around here, pretty much everyone has that look, which makes the faded man all the more unremarkable. "Here" is Millville, Florida, circa 1913. Millville is little more than a few rows of frail, windowless pine and tar-paper shacks, and most of the people who live in the shacks are transients. Work in these parts is seasonal, and when jobs come to an end, people have to move on. There is usually just about enough money to keep a family fed and clothed, but there is never any left over to put aside for the future. Consequently, Millville makes it very hard for its inhabitants to imagine a future that might be different and better than the life they know here. This is why the faded man is so difficult to distinguish from all the other faded men in Millville. Millville breeds faded men.

But today, in the main room of a shabby general store, this man is important. Today he has an audience, watching him with rapt attention. In his hand he holds a cardboard box, and in the box are slips of paper, and on the slips of paper are written the names of just about every young girl in Millville. Soon the man will reachinto the box and grope around until his callused fingers come to rest on what feels like the right slip of paper. He will pull this paper out of the box and unfold it and hold it close to his eyes and squint at it and maybe mouth the name that's printed on it silently once or twice before he speaks it aloud. The girls are looking at him as if he matters. And tothem he does. It is his hand that will choose the slip, his mouth that will pronounce the name of the girl who will win the doll.

To a different group of girls, the doll might look as ordinary as the faded man usually looks to the people of Millville. She is pretty, of course, with golden curls and big brown eyes and a sweet rosebud mouth. She is the most stereotypical of dolls, but to the girls of Millville she is exotic, and even a little unreal. To them, she is like a bright promise of a better world that Millville usually won't let them believe in. She just appeared in the commissary shop at the mill one day, and the girls would come in little clusters to gape at her silently. Then they learned the really amazing thing about her--that she was the prize in a contest. Any of them could win her. All they had to do to enter the contest was spend twenty-five cents on toys in the commissary. Each time they did this, their names would go into the box.

So the girls had to find quarters. And one of these girls decided that, no matter how much anyone else wanted the doll, she wanted it the most. But she figured that the strength of her wanting was not in itself enough. Wanting wouldn't put slips of paper in the box. Only money could do that. Money wasn't something she could ask her family for, because it wasn't something they ever had. She would have to earn her chance to own the doll. So she went looking for work, hiring herself out to anyone who would promise to pay her to do the kinds of jobs an eight-year-old girl can do. She hauled water out of the well until her hands cracked and bled, and she changed diapers and washed dishes and swept floors and minded other children. After three weeks her small body was profoundly tired, but all of this seemed to her a reasonable trade for even the possibility of having the doll. By her calculations, her labors had netted her at least three dollars. But when the time came to collect, the neighbors who hired her shrugged and looked sheepish and mumbled something about how they'd pay her soon. She knewfrom the way they said it that soon meant never. She ended up with fifty cents. Her name went into the box exactly twice.

The man stands at the front of the room with the box in his hand and the doll by his side and he looks at the rows of waiting girls. Finally he reaches in and slowly pulls a slip of paper out of the box. The girls hold their breath and lean forward a little, and the man squints at the paper and moves his mouth silently a few times. At last he comes out with it: The name on the paper is Jackie.

Later she will be Jackie Cochran, but Cochran is a name she will choose for herself, because she never knew what name she would have had if she'd been raised by her real parents. In Millville, she is just Jackie, a foster child, a tacked-on addition to a family of impoverished migrant workers. Like a lot of the girls here, she wears a dress made of burlap, and when the family can't feed her she survives by eating pine nuts she finds on the ground. She does not even know the story of how she came to be taken in by this family, and maybe it has never even occurred to her to ask. Millville does not encourage its inhabitants to wonder. But to Jackie, the doll virtually embodies wonder. The faded man presses the doll into her arms and she looks at the doll and wonders if it is after all possible that wanting can be enough.

Looking at the doll, little Jackie does not at first notice that her foster family has crowded around her, and she doesn't hear what they are saying, although the words are addressed to her. She is at first only vaguely annoyed by this relentless cacophony of voices, but the voices persist, and gradually it sinks in that they're trying to tell her something about her older foster sister, Mamie. She realizes that it's not Mamie herself they're talking about, it's Mamie's little daughter Willie Mae. Willie Mae is two.

"Doesn't Willie Mae deserve the doll for Christmas, Jackie?" It isn't so much a question as an order. "You're too old to play with dolls now, aren't you?"

Mutely, she shakes her head. She's never had a doll of her own. But the look in her eyes, at once mutinous, fierce and pleading, does nothing to alter her foster parents' will. "Give the doll to Willie Mae."

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