In a month-long series, CheapOair will be honoring Black History Month through the lens of great movements and innovators within the travel industry and beyond. This week, the OTA shines a spotlight on some of the great female aviators who paved the way for African American women in aviation by refusing to wait in the wings.
Eight years before the all-female aviation organization the Ninety-Nines and six months before Amelia Earhart became a licensed pilot, twenty-four-year-old Bessie Coleman broke barriers when she received her pilot’s license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale – making her the first African American to achieve this feat.
Following in the footsteps of Bessie Coleman, Willa Brown was the first African American woman to earn a U.S. pilot’s license in the U.S. After completing an M.B.A. from Northwestern University, Brown became a teacher and eventually a social worker. Frustrated with the boundaries and limitations of the time, Brown looked to the skies. Her and her husband, Cornelius Coffey, went on to open the first African American flight school in the United States.
For Janet Bragg, what began as a hobby soon evolved into the great passion of her life. Bragg, who started her career as a Registered Nurse, moved to Chicago to seek more opportunity with less bias-based restrictions. She was the first African American woman to enroll in the Curtis Wright School of Aeronautics, where she was also the sole female cadet. After initially being denied her pilot’s license, she finally received a commercial license a decade later in 1943. She went on to train female pilots in World War II. While many of the women she trained would eventually be selected as Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), she was turned down for being African American. She would later write about her perseverance in the face of adversity in her autobiography Soaring Above Setbacks.
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