Monday 15 September 2014

Born this day ... Jean Batten

Jean Batten was born on 15 September 1909 in Maori. Inspired by Charles Lindbergh's solo non-stop flight crossing the Atlantic Ocean (via), she decided to become a pilot when she was 18. Her mother Ellen Batten, who was "ahead of her time in her feminism, pushing boundaries wherever she could" and "organized suffragist rallies" (Powter, 2006), took her to England where she joined the London Aeroplance Club (via). Ellen Batten taught her daughter that there was nothing a woman could not do. At the same time she taught her that there were a great many things a woman should not do, such as showing weakness and not being properly dressed and made up. Her mother had a great influence on her life, the two "were inextricably intertwined" (Powter, 2006).

In 1934, Jean Batten flew from England to Australia and broke Amy Johnson's record. The following year she became the first woman to make a return flight (Australian - England) and set the world record flying from England to Brazil, followed by another world record in 1936, flying from England to New Zealand (via). The New Zealander Batten became one of the most famous aviatrixes in the world, her receptions took levels of hero worship. Due to her flying records, looks and glamour she was given the name "Garbo of the Skies". She was awarded several honours, among them the Order of the Southern Cross which had never before been given to a member of the British Empire who was not of royal birth (via). At that time, there was a "relative equality that women enjoyed in the young sport. The number of female pilots - famous female pilots quite the equal of men - was much greater than women's penetration of other risk pursuits." Female pilots were more or less as often in the newspapers as male pilots. They competed not to break women's records but to be the first or the fastest ones independent of gender (Powter, 2006).

Descriptions of Jean Batten range from the warm-hearted aviatrix to a narcissistic, seductive persona (Powter, 2006). Jean Batten is also referred to as "the girl who has beaten all the men" and as a woman who, in her way, supported ongoing feminist struggles (Millward, 2007).

Later, Jean Batten withdrew and lived with her mother. In 1982, she was bitten by a dog on Majorca. She did not wish any treatment, the wound became infected, Jean Batten died from the complications. Anonymously. It was only in 1987 that her relatives and the world learned about her passing away (via).

Clip "Jean Batten Triumphs.": watch

- Millward, L. (2007) Women in British Imperial Airspace, 1922-1937. McGill-Queen's University Press
- Powter, G. (2006) Strange and Dangerous Dreams. The Fine Line between Adventure and Madness. Seattle: The Mountaineers Books
- photos via and via and via and via and via