Picture: Tiny Broadwick seated in a sling hanging from the side of Glenn Martin’s plane, 1913. Thanks to Daniella Wild for calling my attention to her!
Georgia Ann Thompson, the first female parachutist and inventor of the rip cord, became famous under the name Tiny Broadwick. She weighed only three pounds at birth in 1893 in North Carolina, and never grew past 5 feet tall and 80 pounds. She married at 12, and bore a daughter, Verla, at 13. After her husband died in an accident, she had to work 14-hour days in a cotton mill.
"In 1907 at the North Carolina State Fair, Georgia saw the performance, 'The Broadwicks and their Famous French Aeronauts.' The performers ascended to the sky in hot-air balloons, then thrilled spectators by jumping out of them with parachutes. Inspired by this, Georgia asked show owner Charles Broadwick if she could travel with the group and become a part of the act. He agreed to hire her, and Georgia’s mother let her go with a few stipulations- she had to leave Verla behind and send back money to help support her. Broadwick trained her in the art of parachute jumping, and in 1908, legally adopted her. When this happened, Georgia’s name officially became Tiny Broadwick.
"While performing, Tiny was known as “The Doll Girl”. She dressed in ruffled bloomers with pink bows on her arms, ribbons in her long curly hair, and a bonnet on her head. Tiny was just 15 years old when she jumped from a hot-air balloon at the 1908 North Carolina State Fair. Describing her feelings later, she said, “I tell you, honey, it was the most wonderful sensation in the world!” It was a thrill she would come to experience some 1,000 times in her life.
"Tiny and Charles Broadwick traveled all over the country with their balloon act, but by 1912, their performance was losing popularity. Fortunately, a new opportunity presented itself to Tiny when she met famed pilot Glenn Martin. He had seen her jump from a balloon, and asked if she would like to parachute from his airplane instead. Tiny immediately agreed to work for Martin, whose aircraft company is still in business today and is operating under the name Martin Marietta.
"In preparation for the jump, Charles Broadwick developed a parachute for Tiny made of silk. It was packed into a knapsack attached to a canvas jacket with harness straps. A string was fastened to the plane’s fuselage and woven through the parachute’s canvas covering. When Tiny jumped from the plane, the cover tore away and her parachute filled with air.
"On her first jump, Tiny was suspended from a trap seat behind the wing and outside the cockpit, with the parachute on a shelf above her. Martin took the plane up to two thousand feet, and then Tiny released a lever alongside the seat, allowing it to drop out from under her. The jump was a success and she landed in Griffith Park in Los Angeles, making her the first woman to parachute from an airplane. After that first jump from Martin’s plane, Tiny was in great demand all over the country. She also became the first woman to parachute into a body of water.
"In 1914, at the start of WWI, representatives of the Army Air Corps visited Tiny in San Diego and asked her to demonstrate a jump from a military plane. At that time, many Air Corps pilots had already perished, and the Army wanted Tiny to showcase how to safely parachute out of a plane. During the demonstration, Tiny made four jumps at San Diego’s North Island.
"The first three went smoothly, but on the fourth jump, her parachute’s line became tangled in the tail assembly of the plane. Due to high winds, she could not get back into the plane. Instead of panicking, Tiny cut all but a short length of the line, which made her plummet towards the ground. Still keeping a cool head, she pulled the line by hand, freeing the parachute to open by itself. This demonstrated what would be known as the rip cord, and showcased that someone who had to leave an airplane in flight did not need a line attached to the aircraft to open a parachute. A pilot could safely bail out of a damaged craft. Following this, the parachute became known as the life preserver of the air.
"Tiny Broadwick’s last jump was in 1922, when she was just 29 years old. Chronic problems with her ankles forced her into retirement. [All those forceful landings took their toll!] She stated at the time, “I breathe so much better up there, and it’s so peaceful being that near to God.”
"Tiny received many honors and awards in her lifetime, including the U.S. Government Pioneer Aviation award and the John Glenn Medal. She is one of the few women in the Early Birds of Aviation, and she also received the Gold Wings of the Adventurer’s Club in Los Angeles. In 1964, Tiny was made an honorary member of the 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg. With that honor, she was told she could jump any time she chose. At the age of 85, Tiny Broadwick died and was buried in her home state of North Carolina."