I love research and I’m looking forward to an autumn of delving into the background for the next novel in my Riduna series. (Having been prompted by several readers to do so) Sometimes it is the ‘blind alleys’ you get absorbed in that give you a gem of an idea for the future and my discovery of so many female fliers in the early part of the 20th Century certainly stirred my imagination.
Bessie was extra special. Not only was she female but she was also poor and black. Bessie used her intelligence wisely and she wasn’t deterred from her quest by prejudice of any kind. In fact it made her even more determined. She achieved a lasting legacy in her short life which affected many.
Here’s Bessie’s story:
Bessie Coleman 1892 – 1926 ‘Queen Bess’
Background and inspiration to fly ~ One of a family of thirteen children of a sharecropper Bessie had to walk four miles to school each day, where she excelled in mathematics. In 1915 she worked at a barber’s shop as a manicurist which is where she heard stories of pilots arriving home from WW1.
Aviation achievements ~ She dreamed of learning to fly but even black US airmen wouldn’t train her so, undeterred, she learnt French and headed to Paris. In 1921 she became the first African American to obtain her international aviation licence. Still unable to make a living flying in the USA, or to find anyone willing to train her as a stunt pilot, she returned to France gaining instruction there and in Germany too, by a pilot at the Fokker Corporation.
On returning to the US she appeared in air displays and became known as “The world’s greatest woman flier.”
“I decided blacks should not have to experience the difficulties I had faced, so I decided to open a flying school and teach other black women to fly,” Bessie was noted saying.
Death ~ Unfortunately she did not live long enough to fulfil this dream because in 1926 a plane she flew in with William Will crashed and both died.
Noteble difference ~ It was after her death that she made the impact she’d hoped for in life, when Bessie Coleman Aero Clubs sprang up throughout America.