Distinguished Women of Past and Present


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Bessie Coleman

From: United States: Illinois, Texas
Fields: Aviation and Space Exploration
Bessie Coleman was the world's first black female pilot and the first woman to receive an international pilot's license. She was born on January 26, 1893 in Atlanta, Texas, to sharecropper parents as the twelfth of thirteen children.

Coleman could not gain admittance to an American flying school because of her race, so she attempted to get her aviator's license in another country. Influenced by a black American pilot, Eugene Jacques Bullard, who flew with the French in World War I, she learned French and went to Europe with a Red Cross unit attached to a French flying squadron. She persuaded French pilots to give her instruction and in 1921 earned a pilot's license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.

She returned to the United States in 1922 and was working to establish an American flight school for blacks. To gain support for the school, she traveled across the country giving lectures and flying demonstrations. Bessie Coleman died without accomplishing her goal when she was hurled from her plane during a flying exhibition in Jacksonville, Florida, on April 30, 1926.

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1997.

The Book of Women's Firsts: Breakthrough Achievements of Almost 1,000 American Women by Phyllis J. Read and Bernard L. Witlieb, Random House, 1992


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