Mildred Doran was a member of Alpha Sigma Tau’s Alpha chapter at Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University). It’s hard for any of us who can get from the east coast to the west coast in several hours on a commercial flight to imagine a time when flying was a new and sometimes dangerous adventure.
In 1927, during the Coolidge administration, Mildred Doran’s name was in the newspapers. An aspiring pilot, she attempted to be the first woman to fly from the west coast to Hawaii as part of the Dole Transpacific Air Race. She was not in the pilot’s seat; perhaps if she had been history would have been different. Charles Lindbergh’s flight from Long Island to Paris was in the news when James Dole, the “Pineapple King,” announced his race, from California to Hawaii, 2,400 miles over the Pacific Ocean. The $25,000 top prize was the equivalent of more than $300,000 in 2016 dollars.
The Dole Air Race, which began on the morning of August 16, 1927, offered a $25 prize to the crew of the plane which crossed from Oakland, California, to Hawaii. Between the time the race was announced and the planes took off, two planes were able to complete the feat. However, the race took place as scheduled.
That morning, eight planes with a total of 15 crew members departed from Oakland Airport. One pilot was attempting it solo and two planes had three crew members. The Miss Doran, with Mildred Doran among the crew, was the only plane to have a woman on board. The plane on which Doran crewed was a Buhl CA-5 Airsedan. Its pilot was Augie Pedlar and its navigator was Vilas Knope. The plane first departed at 12:34 p.m. The plane quickly returned due to engine problems. After a some maintenance, it took off again at 2:30 p.m.
Of the eight planes, four aborted the attempts and returned to Oakland if the plane left the airport. Two, including the Miss Doran, were lost at sea. Two made it to Hawaii, the winner received a $25,000 prize and the second place winner took a $10,000 prize. One of the planes that returned to Oakland took off a few days later to help with the rescue attempt and was then lost at sea. Of the 15 race participants, seven died in the attempt to get from California to Hawaii.
Mildred Doran, who, after graduation, had taught school at Caro, Michigan, was 22 years old. According to her nephew, Richard A. Durose, while Doran was in college, she and a friend attended an airshow. They were offered a ride in a plane. While Doran was a bit apprehensive. She later told a newspaper, “I could have just prayed for someone to forbid me to go.” In an interview with the Detroit Times before the Dole race she said, “I am nothing of a hoyden and yet the first time I went up, I wasn’t a bit afraid.”
According to an article written by her nephew, “The wisdom of the day questioned permitting a woman to fly, even as a passenger. Mildred shrugged off the issue, saying ‘A woman should fly just as easily as a man.… Women certainly have the courage and tenacity required for long flights. ‘On the hazards of the long flight over water, she told the Flint Journal: ‘Life is nothing but a chance.'”
© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2016. All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/