International Women’s Day: Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman was the first African-American woman to fly a plane and to hold a pilot’s  license. She was originally barred from attending aviation schools in the U.S., but didn’t let this deter her from her dream. Bessie learned French and went to train as a pilot in Europe.

Bessie was the 12th of 13 children born in Atlanta, Texas. She worked as a manicurist in Chicage and did laundry, and other side jobs,  to earn money to pay for college. Her inspiration was Eugene Jacques Bullard who had flown during WWI with the French Army.

Bessie Coleman, first African-American woman to fly a plane
Bessie Coleman (Source:

Towards the end of WWI, Bessie Coleman traveled to France with the Red Cross and in 1921 gained her pilot’s license. She returned to the States in 1922 and worked in airshows, performing flying stunts. She also taught trainee pilots and her goal was to set up an aviation school for African-Americans. However, before this reached fruition, she died in a plane crash during an airshow for a May Day celebration in Florida in 1926.

The Bessie Aviators Organization was founded in 1975 and was open to women pilots across the U.S.