Women have been flying since 1908, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that they were able to have the same cockpit access as their male counterparts. These three women made particularly significant contributions to the world of aviation and space exploration.
Perhaps the most well-known female pilot in history, Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean. On August 25, 1932, she also became the first woman to fly nonstop across the United States, with a flight that took her from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey.
In addition to her aviation success, Earhart was a clothing designer, vice president of the National Aeronautic Association, and a visiting professor at Purdue University. In 1937, Earhart attempted to fly across the world, but it is believed that her plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean. Her remains have never been found, and her disappearance remains a great mystery.
Although her aviation career was short, Harriet Quimby paved the way for female pilots by becoming the first woman to earn a pilot’s license. After receiving her Federation Aeronautique Internationale certificate in August 1911, she joined an exhibition team called the Moisant International Aviators. Shortly after, she became the first woman to fly across Mexico City.
In April 1912, she became the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel. Upon returning to the United States, Quimby performed at the Harvard-Boston Aviation Meet on July 1, 1912. During her flight, Quimby and her co-pilot, William Willard, fell to their deaths in Dorchester Harbor after their plane flipped over, ejecting both of them.
The first African American to receive a pilot’s license, Bessie Coleman was determined to succeed in the aviation world, despite her race and gender. After attempting to earn her license in the United States, Coleman went to France where she earned her license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale on June 15, 1921.
After earning her license, Coleman began performing throughout the United States, including Chicago and southern states. Her ultimate goal of opening a flying school for African Americans was nearly realized, but a crash during a test flight at the May Day celebration in Jacksonville, Florida on April 30, 1926 ended her life.