Mary Riddle dressed in tribal attire. Photography courtesy of Transportation History. Indigenous Peoples' Day, previously recognized as Columbus Day, is an opportunity to honor and celebrate Native Indigenous Americans. President Joe Biden proclaimed November 11 as Indigenous Peoples' Day for the first time this year. In addition, the month of November is Native American Heritage Month. Many Native American women played an important role in shaping aviation. Their role continues to inspire other minorities in aviation to this day.
1. Bessie Coleman
Bessie is one of the most well-known female aviators. She was a barnstormer for many women. In 1921, Bessie was the first African American and Native American woman to receive a pilot's license. Bessie's grandfather was a member of the Cherokee tribe. At the time, it was frowned upon for women and minorities to do flight training in the United States. Bessie was determined to learn to fly. She took French classes and eventually traveled to Paris where she earned her pilot's license.
The photograph of Bessie on her pilot certificate. Photography courtesy of the National Air and Space Museum.
2. Mary Riddle
Mary was the second Native American woman to become a pilot. She was a member of the Clatsop and Quinault tribes in Washington and Oregon. Mary was also a proud member of the 99's and the Associated Women of Boeing Field (AWBF). A video recently digitalized by the Museum of Flight shows the AWBF partaking in aviation through a collection of videos. Aside from flying, Riddle also enjoyed parachute jumping. During WWII, Mary assisted the war efforts as a maintenance advisor and aircraft inspector.
Mary, second from right, in her AWPBF uniform with fellow members. Photography courtesy of Museum of Flight. Members of the AWPBF wearing their flight suits with a winged stiletto on the back. Photography courtesy of the Floyd R. Daniel Boeing Collection/Museum of flight.
3. Ola Mildred Rexroat
Ola was an Oglala Sioux as well as a pilot. After attaining her bachelor's degree, Ola started a job as an airfield engineer. Ola decided to learn to fly so that she could join the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II. Notably, Ola was the only Native American WASP. The WASPs were a group of women pilots who trained the men who later flew combat missions during the war. Women were not permitted to fly in combat at the time, therefore they stayed on the Homefront instructing pilots, towing targets for aerial gunnery practice, and test flying aircraft. After the war was over and the WASPs were disbanded, Ola became an air traffic controller for the Air Force Reserves and eventually the Federal Aviation Administration.
Ola dressed in her WASP uniform. Photography courtesy of the Museum of Flight.
4. Eula "Pearl" Carter Scott
Pearl Carter Scott was another early pioneer in aviation. Pearl was a member of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma. At just 12 years old, Pearl soloed an aircraft in September of 1929. This remarkable flight gave Pearl the title of youngest pilot in the United States. Pearl continued her training and earned her license at an age of 13.
Pearl standing with an aircraft.
These four women paved the way for women and minorities in aviation. During the early years of flying, these women wanted to take to the sky and show the world what they were capable of. Mary Riddle herself claimed that she became a pilot to prove that women could fly. Mary, Bessie, Ola, and Pearl did just that.