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Amelia Earhart’s and Bessie Coleman’s Contribution to The Fight Against Race and Gender Inequality

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In the early 1900s, a new age and era was developing in America. Innovative ideas and inventions were around every corner. From vacuum cleaners to radio broadcasting to, well, a flying machine. Yes, airplanes. Not the airplanes we know now with flight attendants and meals, but all it started as was a literal flying machine. We can credit the invention of the airplane to a few individuals: Alberto Santos-Dumont, Karl Jatho, John Stringfellow, and of course, the Wright Brothers among others. These individuals paved the way for aviation to really grow and develop into the world changing catalyst for travel. During the early days of aviation, many individuals were taking an interest in the field and adding new ideas. The public was very interested in these flying machines, and the popularity of the airplane topic only increased, leaving the aviators during this period with fame and celebrity status. The idea of celebrity in aviation held many different values based on various attributes, some being their race and gender. The value of celebrity to women like Bessie Coleman and Amelia Earhart revolved around being a beacon of hope and confidence for generations of women of color and not of color to succeed. Their value as a celebrity was something that gradually got more and more powerful and continues to be powerful today. Using their celebrity value, Coleman and Earhart were major contributors to the movement to diminish race and gender inequality.

Bessie Coleman was the first woman of African American descent, and the first of Native American descent, to hold a piloting license. Due to the stigma in the early 1900s regarding sexism and racism, this was almost an impossible achievement for Coleman. In fact, in America, it basically was impossible. After searching for years, Coleman realized that she could not acquire decent flight training in America, so she went to France to earn her license. She returned to America in September of 1921, ready to perform through aviation. She started flying in Chicago. Doing aerobatic loops and figure eights, and continuing to do this with a larger and larger audience, lead her to much fame. However, fame to her was not all about photo-ops and signing autographs. In fact, as much fame as she had, it was still the early 1900s. Women, and especially women of color, were not treated equally. For example, in a newspaper titled “The Conceited Dare- Devil,” the writer talks about how he has lost to a female (Bessie Coleman) with an ego, yet again, and how women should not flaunt their achievements. Even through hate like this, Coleman took a much more selfless approach. “Her ultimate goal was to establish a flying school for African Americans” (Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight ‘Women in Aviation and Space History’ 2008). She always made sure that her audience was not segregated and that she was always attracting multi-cultural crowds. She wanted to make sure that she inspired everyone, especially young African Americans, to enter the field of aviation. Coleman fell to her death during a practice flight for May Day in Florida of 1926. Even though her life was cut short, her legacy was not. She was and continues to be one of the pioneers for women in fields of science.

Amelia Earhart was an early American aviation pioneer and author. Earhart was the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Earhart, like Coleman, started off just as someone with an interest in a field of science. She started learning to fly in California as a hobby. To fund her learning, she took various peculiar jobs to help make sure she could do what she loved. Eventually, her family had saved up enough money to buy her an airplane. Earhart had finally gotten everything she dreamed of. After moving to finally pursue her dreams of flying an airplane, she went on to set many record making flights. With her gaining popularity and having caught the public’s eye, Earhart stood to be a role model for women in science. She had many public appearances and even endorsed a line of sports luggage and clothes! She went on to use her love for writing and combine it with her love for flying. She wrote two books, The Fun of It, and Last Flight. In both of these books, she wrote about what it was like to fly and why people with dreams of being in aviation should pursue them. During an appearance, Earhart stated “Women, like men, should try to do the impossible. And when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others” (Amelia Earhart). She was saying that we need to all put our thoughts and ideas together to improve aviation and to be fearless and go for it. Earhart was making sure that she was opening up opportunities for everyone, especially women, to follow their dreams and fly. Earhart, alongside her navigator, vanished during a flight in 1937- that still has not been found till this day.

Both Coleman and Earhart rose to fame through aviation, each of them rising to celebrity status at different times, yet using their status to do the same thing. Coleman used her performances and her voice, and Earhart used her record-breaking flights and her writing. They both stood as a symbol of perseverance and hard work. Each of them represented every single woman that was pursuing the area of science, or that wanted to. They were the reasons why many women started thinking that they could even try furthering their knowledge and careers into science. Like most things, their fame truly increased after their passings. However, unlike most things, their importance only continues to grow. Every advancement we make through different races and genders in science, we look back at who really paved the way. These are the women who accomplished the impossible – even when everything was in favor of them not succeeding. Bessie Coleman and Amelia Earhart are only two of the heroes in diminishing the sexist and racist cultures in America, but they are two of the most eminent. They took one of the first steps, to an ongoing journey of ending the injustice once and for all, and we owe it to them to continue encouraging women to show off the intelligence and charisma that they can bring to fields of science.


  • “The Wright Brothers: The First Successful Airplane.” The Wright Brothers | The First Successful Airplane,
  • “Inventions 1900 to 1990 – History Learning Site Inventions 1900 to 1990.” History Learning Site, 18 Sept. 2018,
  • “Women in Aviation and Space History.” Women in Aviation and Space History – Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum,
  • Bix, Amy, ‘Bessie Coleman: Race and Gender Realities Behind Aviation Dreams’ (2005). History Publications. 11.
  • Bix, Amy. “Bessie Coleman: Race and Gender Realities Behind Aviation Dreams.” Iowa State University Digital Repository,
  • “Amelia Earhart.” Emily Taylor Center for Women & Gender Equity, 22 May 2013,
  • Richmond planet. [volume] (Richmond, Va.), 05 July 1930. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. 

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