Women of Culpeper – Edith Jacqueline “Jack” Stearns Gray – January 11, 1890 – October 14, 1961

March 28, 2024 Updates

Women of Culpeper – Edith Jacqueline “Jack” Stearns Gray – January 11, 1890 – October 14, 1961 Image

Research contributed by Gloria Cooper, Culpeper Tourism

Edith Jacqueline “Jack” Stearns Gray was born January 11, 1890, on the Farley estate, a 1485-acre property that her father received as a wedding present in Culpeper County. She was one of nine children and the daughter of a wealthy farmer. Her father was born in Vermont and served as a captain in the Union Army. The Stearns family was considered “Yankee newcomers” in Virginia. The Farley estate was built in approximately 1801 by William Carter and produced approximately 1500 bushels of corn and 4000 bushels of wheat annually.

Jack had the privilege of dining at the White House as a teenager with her parents and President Teddy Roosevelt. As a crusader for women’s rights, Jack led the suffrage movement in Culpeper County. She also refused to ever ride her horse side saddle.

As a prep school student in Washington, D.C. in 1905, Jack attended a performance of Peter Pan at the National Theatre.  It was there she saw Maude Adams “flying” through the air with the help of wires, and her interest in flying was born.

Jack became the first woman from Virginia to go up in an airplane and the first woman ever to fly over the Adirondack Mountains. Later, she became the first woman to take off in an airplane from Virginia soil.

In October 1912, while on vacation in Saranac Lake, NY, Jack heard that George A. Gray, a Wright brothers trained aviator, had landed nearby after a record-setting 89-mile flight. Jack called him and asked for a chance to go up with him. Gray initially refused, saying, “This is no place to fly women, and besides, I am here only for exhibitions. Pardon me – goodbye”. However, Jack appeared at the racetrack early the next morning dressed in riding clothes, thinking she would have a better chance if she appeared more masculine. She offered him $50 for a flight, but Gray told her that it was worth $100 or more because the air currents in the mountains were so treacherous. She boldly asked him why it cost more if there was less of a chance of returning from the flight in one piece. Gray agreed to meet at five that afternoon after his exhibitions. Together, their first flight took 25 minutes and covered eight miles. After their flight, Jack wrote Gray a check for $50 – which he never cashed.  Jack and George were married on June 4, 1913, in Washington, D.C.

Edith Jacqueline Jack Stearns Gray had ridden with the hounds many times, marched for the right to vote, dined at the White House, declined an invitation to go hunting with Teddy Roosevelt, and crossed the Rocky Mountains in a Model T-Ford, but nothing ever matched the thrill of flight.