Bessie Coleman was the first African American woman to earn a pilot's license.
In the 1920s, getting a pilot's license as a Black woman in the United States was impossible; so Coleman moved to France to get her flying certification. On June 15, 1921, Coleman achieved her goal—making history as the first African American woman to earn a pilot's license.More About Coleman
On April 30, 1926, Coleman and her mechanic went up for a practice flight before an upcoming performance. Wills piloted the plane as Coleman surveyed the ground for a suitable parachute landing site. To do so she did not buckle her seat belt. Soon tragedy struck. Cruising at 3,500 feet, the biplane accelerated and then suddenly went into a nosedive, tailspin and flipped over. Coleman was thrown from the aircraft and plunged to her death. Wills crashed with the plane and was also killed.
While Coleman did not achieve her dream of opening a flying school, her brief career inspired many others to pursue their dreams. Pictured is the Bessie Coleman Aero Club, organized by William J. Powell (far right), a successful owner of several automobile service stations in Chicago, to promote aviation awareness in the black community. Both men and women were welcome to apply.
This self-guided expedition will explore several women in aviation and aerospace through their own life stories and our artifacts. Using the aircraft and spacecraft at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, and our digital collection, we will present women, their place in history and their impact in aviation and aerospace.Explore Now
Step back in time and learn about the history of women in aviation through their own life stories. From the first woman to earn her pilot’s license to the programmers who made the trip to the Moon possible, we celebrate the women of the past and look toward what will be achieved in the future.Try Now