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Bessie Coleman

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Pioneering pilot Bessie Coleman opened the door for generations of women to chart paths in the aviation industry, and the trailblazer will receive a special honor for breaking barriers in the sky. Coleman—the first Black woman to earn an international pilot’s license—will have her image featured on the U.S. quarter.

The tribute is part of the United States Mint’s 2023 American Women Quarters Program, an initiative launched to use coinage to honor the legacies of influential women whose contributions have shaped the landscape of American history. Coleman—a Texas native—embarked on a journey in aviation after moving to Chicago at 23. She tried to enroll in several flight schools within the United States but was denied due to racial and gender discrimination.

She later moved to Le Crotoy, France, to study at the Caudron Brothers’ School of Aviation and received her international pilot’s license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale in 1921. A year after hitting that historic milestone, she conducted the first public flight to be led by a Black woman. Determined to empower more women of color to pursue careers in aviation, she took the knowledge she garnered in Europe and dedicated her time to hosting flight lessons and shows throughout the U.S.

Coleman died in a plane crash on April 30, 1926, but Black women aviators have upheld her legacy and continue to revolutionize the aeronautics space.

“The range of accomplishments and experiences of these extraordinary women speak to the contributions women have always made in the history of our country,” Ventris C. Gibson, the Mint’s Deputy Director, shared in a statement. “I am proud that the Mint continues to connect America through coins by honoring these pioneering women and their groundbreaking contributions to our society.”

Amongst the other barrier-breaking women being honored are Mexican American journalist, activist and educator Jovita Idar, former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Hawaiian dancer and composer Edith Kanakaʻole and Native American ballet dancer Maria Tallchief.

News about the 2023 American Women Quarters Program honorees comes months after literary giant Dr. Maya Angelou became one of the first women to have her likeness featured on a U.S. quarter.


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