Jessie Maude MILLER
Also known as: née Beveridge, Jessie Keith, Chubbie
Jessie was awarded her private pilot’s license No. 6014 in the state of New York, in April 1929, only a few days after Amelia Earhart, who was a personal friend, gained her commercial license. Miller was only the third woman to have a license in that state and within the first 50 in the US. She was only the third Australian woman to have a pilot’s license (p. 94).
On 9 January, 1928, after leaving Singapore for Australia, Jessie was the first woman across the equator in the air (p. 57). When she and Bill Lancaster had landed in Singapore, 10.500 miles from England, they had established a long-distance record for a light aircraft. Their plane, the Red Rose, was the first plane of such small size to reach Singapore from England. Jessie had become the first woman from the West to fly into the Far East and the first known woman to have ever flown this far (p. 56). When they landed in Darwin, 19 March 1928, Jessie was the first woman across the Timor Sea in the air. Until Amy Johnson in 1930, Jessie was the only woman to have made the journey from England to Australia in the air (p. 134).
On 28 April, 1928, Jessie landed in Launceston, Tasmania, having become the first woman to have piloted a plane across Bass Straight. When she and Bill Lancaster landed in Hobart the next day, they were the first aviators to have flown from England to Tasmania, and Jessie was the first woman to have travelled in the air from north to south of Australia: Darwin to Hobart (pp. 83-4).
When Jessie competed in the Women’s National Air Derby (‘Powder Puff Derby’) across the US from Santa Monica in California to Cleveland, Ohio, during August 1929, she was the first woman from the Southern Hemisphere to compete in an international event: 2700 miles in nine days. As a consequence of competing in this event, and her friendship with other leading female pilots of the time, Jessie became a charter member of the Ninety Nines on 2 November, the oldest (and still continuing) organization for women pilots in the world (pp. 97-121).
On 26 October 1929, Jessie became the holder of the US transcontinental air speed record in both directions, only the second woman to do so at that time (pp. 139-141).
On 25 November, 1929, she became the first woman (and only the second person) to fly solo from the US East Coast to Cuba in her red Alexander Bullet: 1350 miles in 12 hours 8 minutes flying time (p. 145). On the return journey to Miami, she became the first recorded pilot to become lost in what later became known as the Bermuda Triangle area. Forced down on remote Andros Island in the Bahamas, she was eventually rescued by Australian swimming legend Percy Cavill, who was living there. Repairing the plane, she resumed her flight, only for the plane to be wrecked at Jacksonville, Florida, in a crash that put her in hospital (pp. 148-153).
In January 1935, she was the first woman to fly solo from England into the West African nation of Benin. (p. 224-7).
Jessie was always adamant about the independence of female pilots and that she and they were quite capable of doing anything in the air and with a plane that men could. In an interview in Philadelphia in 1930, for example, she told the reporter firmly that, "Women can handle big planes as well as men. Strength plays no part in it. And women are more cautious" (p. 142). Jessie, like other female long-distance fliers, was a flight mechanic and aircraft structural engineer as well as a pilot. You had to be: if anything failed anywhere in your aircraft in some remote location, you were the only one who could fix it. As WWII approached, Jessie was living in England and gathered the support of a number of leading British airwomen to form a female flying corps who could pilot aerial ambulances, carry dispatches, transport planes, and train pilots if war broke out, and who could also take over piloting commercial aircraft so the men could fly fighters and bombers. "In the piloting of aircraft," she declared, "women are little inferior to men." Despite resistance to the idea from male officers in the RAF, the women's section of the Air Transport Auxiliary was formed in 1939 and by 1943 they were earning equal pay with the male pilots, the first time the British government agreed to an equal gender pay scheme (p. 230).
I've attached a couple of photos that may be of help, too, as well as one of the book cover. The one labelled 'Jessie portrait' was taken in Australia in 1928 to commemorate her achievement. The one labeled 'Cleveland Race' was taken in 1929 at the award ceremony after the Derby, and the one of the envelope (which is in my collection) is fairly self-explanatory, I think.
Page references are to my book, The Flying Adventures of Jessie Keith "Chubbie" Miller: The Southern Hemisphere's First International Aviatrix. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co Publishers, 2017.
Dr Chrystopher J Spicer
Senior Tutor in Academic Writing and Research
Adjunct Senior Research Fellow
College of Arts, Society, and Education
James Cook University Cairns, Queensland
Image - The book cover of The Flying Adventures of Jessie Keith "Chubbie" Miller: The Southern Hemisphere's First International Aviatrix.
The Flying Adventures of Jessie Keith "Chubbie" Miller: The Southern Hemisphere's First International Aviatrix. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co Publishers, 2017.
Photo provided by, and used with permission of, Dr Chrystopher J Spicer.