The Game of Love & Death: Women in Early Aviation


In Martha Brockenbrough’s The Game of Love & Death, Flora dreams of being a famous pilot. But in the 1930s, women — especially African-American women — faced a lot of uphill battles to take to the skies. There were, however, some early female pioneers in aviation — including a few who inspired our Flora. So for today’s post, we look at women in early aviation.

Bessie Coleman

Bessie_Coleman_and_her_plane_(1922)Perhaps Flora’s biggest influence, Bessie Coleman was the first African-American female pilot, and the first African-American to hold an international pilot license.

Coleman was inspired to become a pilot after hearing stories about the pilots who flew in World War I. However, being a woman and black, she was unable to get into any U.S. aviation schools. Thanks to the financial backing of the Chicago Defender and banker Jesse Binga, Coleman went abroad and studied aviation in Paris.

It was in Paris in 1921 that Coleman earned her international aviation license — the first American of ANY gender or ethnicity to do so.

Notable Women in Early Aviation

From aviation’s earliest days, women have been pioneers in the field. Women in Aviation International highlights some of the earliest significant women in flight:

  • 1906 E. Lillian Todd (USA)
    First Woman to Design and Build an Aircraft
  • Thérèse Peltier, First Woman to Pilot an Aircraft
    Thérèse Peltier, First Woman to Pilot an Aircraft

    1908 Therese Peltier (France)
    First Woman to Pilot an Aircraft

  • 1910 Blanche Stuart Scott (USA)
    First Woman to Solo an Airplane
  • 1910 Raymonde de Laroche (France)
    First Woman in the World to Receive Pilot License
  • 1911 Melli Beese (Germany)
    First Woman in Germany to Receive a Pilot License
  • 1911 Harriet Quimby (USA)
    First U.S. Woman to Earn a Pilot Certificate and to Cross the English Channel
  • 1915 Katherine Stinson (USA)
    First Female Aerobatic Pilot
  • 1918 Marjorie Stinson (USA)
    First Woman Airmail Pilot
  • 1921 Bessie Coleman (USA)
    First African-American (male or female) to Receive a Pilot License
  • 1922 Tadashi Hyodo (Japan)
    First Woman in Japan to Receive a Pilot License
  • 1927 Phoebe Fairgrave Omlie (USA)
    First Woman to Obtain an Aircraft Mechanics License
  • 1929 Louise Thaden (USA)
    First Winner of All Women’s Air Race
  • 1929 Florence “Pancho” Barnes (USA)
    First Woman Stunt Pilot in Motion Pictures
  • 1929 Bobbi Trout (USA)
    First Woman to Perform In-flight Aerial Refueling
  • Amelia Earhart
    Amelia Earhart

    1930 Amy Johnson (UK)
    First Woman to Fly from England to Australia

  • 1931 Anne Morrow Lindbergh (USA)
    First U.S. Woman Glider Pilot
  • 1932 Ruthy Tu (China)
    First Woman Pilot in the Chinese Army
  • 1932 Amelia Earhart (USA)
    First Woman to Cross the Atlantic Solo
  • 1934 Helen Richey (USA)
    First Woman to be Hired as a Pilot for a U.S. Commercial Airline (Central Airlines)

A Timeline of Women in Aviation

From the organization Women in Aviation International, here is a timeline of women’s role in aviation:

  • Sally Ride, First U.S. Woman in Space
    Sally Ride, First U.S. Woman in Space

    1903 The Wright Brothers’ powered flight

  • 1910 First woman to receive pilot license
  • 1911 First U.S. woman to receive pilot license
  • 1927 First woman to obtain aircraft mechanics license
  • 1932 First woman to cross Atlantic Ocean solo
  • 1934 First woman pilot hired for U.S. commercial airline
  • 1942 First women hired as air traffic control specialists
  • 1942 First U.S. women pilots to fly military aircraft
  • 1943 First U.S. women navigators for the military
  • 1953 First woman to break sound barrier
  • 1963 First woman in space
  • 1964 First woman to successfully fly around the world
  • 1973 First woman hired as ATP for modern, jet-equipped scheduled airline
  • 1980 First woman to win the World Aerobatics Championship
  • 1984 First woman walks in space
  • 1993 U.S. Department of Defense opens combat aviation to women
  • 1999 First woman space shuttle commander

Read more here.



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