Aviatrices past and present

Past- Willa Brown and Present collage of today
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Important Aviatrix from the Past

Multiple Accomplishments by First Black Pilot

International Women’s Institute asks for gender neutral FARs



Yes, the first pilots and their mechanic were white males. Attitudes limited the entry of women into aviation. In spite of that women like Willa Brown have broken barriers in significant ways. Their history deserves remembrance and recognition.

After decades of efforts, some required by the government, women still constitute a percentage of the workforce and recreational flight below what it should be. The Institute for Women of Aviation Worldwide is attempting to attack institutional biases as expressed in regulations.

First African-American Aviatrix

A woman of many feats, Willa Brown was first African-American to earn a pilot license

Willa Brown history graphic

Michael Eli Dokosi | Staff Writer





Willa Beatrice Brown was the first African-American woman to earn a pilot license (1938) and a commercial license (1939) in the United States. She was one of a small group of pre-World War II black women aviators.







She was also an aviator, lobbyist, teacher and civil rights activist. Brown became the first African-American woman to run for the United States Congress, the first African-American officer in the US Civil Air Patrol, and the first woman in the United States to have a pilot’s license and a mechanic’s license

Aviation however wasn’t always part of Brown’s life. She briefly taught at the Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana before moving to Chicago, Illinois to become a social worker. Landing in Chicago, she decided to learn how to fly. In 1934, Brown began her flight instruction under the direction of John Robinson and Cornelius Coffey. She also studied at the Curtiss Wright. In 1937, Brown became the first African-American woman in the U.S. to earn a commercial pilot’s license. Two years later she married her former flight instructor, Cornelius Coffey, and they co-founded the Cornelius Coffey School of Aeronautics, the first black-owned and operated private flight training academy in the U.S.





The fortune and esteem of the Coffey school was bolstered in 1939 when the Federal Government awarded them a contract to train Americans to fly airplanes in case of a national emergency. Later that year, Brown became a co-founder of the National Airmen’s Association of America. She also joined the Challenger Air Pilot’s Association, the Chicago Girls Flight Club while she purchased her own airplane all between 1939 and 1940.

Willa Brown and the TUSKEGEE_

TUSKEGEE Airmen and teacher Willa Brown

Even the men who came to be known as the Tuskegee Airmen had trained under Brown. She was also the director/coordinator of two Civil Aeronautics Administration (CAA) programs: one at the Harlem Airport and the other at Wendell Phillips High School in Chicago.

Brown achieved another distinction in 1941 when she became the first African-American officer in the U.S. Civil Air Patrol (CAP); she was commissioned a Lieutenant. The U.S. government also named her federal coordinator of the CAP Chicago unit.

CAP swearing-in

In 1946, Brown became the first African American woman to run for Congress on the Republican ticket although she lost to the Democrat incumbent, William Levi Dawson. She run two other times in 1948 and 1950 as well.

After the Coffey School closed in 1945, Brown remained politically and socially active in Chicago. She organized flight schools for children and taught in the Chicago Public School System until 1971, when she retired at the age of 65.


She supported various causes throughout her political career, including the racial and gender integration of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

In 1955, Brown, now 49, married Rev. J.H. Chappell, the minister of the West Side Community Church in Chicago. In 1972, in recognition of her contributions to aviation in the United States as a pilot, an instructor, and an activist, Ms. Brown-Chappell was appointed to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Women’s Advisory Board.[1] Willa B. Brown-Chappell died on July 18, 1992 at the age of 86 in Chicago.

FAA woman advisory committee


Brown was born in Glasgow, Kentucky on January 22, 1906 to Reverend and Mrs. Erice B. Brown. She graduated from Wiley High School in Terra Haute, Indiana earning her Bachelor’s degree from the Indiana State Teachers College (now Indiana State University) in 1927. Ten years later, she earned a Master’s degree in Business Administration from Northwestern University.

bessieColeman flyover Willa Brown

Formal posed portrait of black pilots at Pilgrim Baptist Church in Chicago, Illinois to plan a flyover of Bessie Coleman’s grave. 1st row (L to R): Stanton DePriest, Marie Joyner, Rev. J.C. Austin, D.W. Williams, unidentified, 2nd row : Lola Jones, Willa Brown, Janet Waterford (Bragg), Dorothy Tanner, Mrs. Earl Renfroe. 3rd row: Cornelius Coffey, Dr. Earl Renfroe, Maj. Fisher, Robert Jones, Dale White. 4th row: Chas. Johnson, Harold Hurd, Wm. Cosby, Edw. Jones, Jas. Rainey, Walter Evans. 5th row: Albert Cox, Edw. Anderson, Joe Muldrow, Wm. P. McFarland, Clyde Hampton, Edw. McFarland. Inset in the top right corner is a head and shoulders portrait of Bessie Coleman, and images of aircraft are inset across the top. Dates to May 26, 1935.

collage of women in aviation today

Petition: Help Eliminate Gender-Exclusive Words that Keep Women out of Aviation

February 23, 2020 by iWOAW Team

Gender-exclusive words signal group-based ostracism and act as entry barriers


iWOAW image





[ iWOAW provided image]

In 2020, female pilots look up Notices to Airmen before each flight, validate their Medical Certificate by signing in the Airman Signature field, and refer to Airman Certification Standards to prepare for pilot tests.

The FAA’s website contains more than 40,000 references to Airman or Airmen; ICAO’s website lists close to 2,000 airmen references. It does not stop with these administrative organizations. Industry stakeholders and media use them too.

Research indicates that linguistic cues such as gender-exclusive terms that may seem trivial at face value can signal group-based ostracism and lead members of the ostracized group to self-select out of important professional environments.

Women do feel ostracized and are steering away from the aerospace careers publicly labelled as men’s careers. Worldwide, the percentage of female pilots is less than 3%.

The United States counts 262,025 commercial pilots including 13,692 women according to the latest U.S. Civil Airmen Statistics published by the FAA.

two women pilots in a cockpit

For years, the Institute for Women Of Aviation Worldwide (iWOAW)  and its president, MIREILLE GOYER, have unsuccessfully encouraged the FAA and ICAO to remove gender-exclusive words from all their publications. We are now launching a petition to demand a change without further delays.


It is common sense. How long would it take the FAA and ICAO to change the wording if male pilots had to refer to Notices to Airwomen before each flight and carry a certificate including an Airwoman signature field?

Gender-neutral terms such Pilot, Aircrew, or Flight Personnel already exist. Technology makes wording changes in documents a matter of will rather than a matter of means.

Yet, 110 years after Raymonde de Laroche became the 36th person – and the first woman – in the world to earn a pilot licence on March 8, the FAA and ICAO continue to negate their presence in their publications.

It is time to make a change. Add your voice to iWOAW‘s. Tell the FAA and ICAO to eliminate words that act as entry barriers for women. Sign and share the petition.

Petition update

Patty Wagstaff supports action to bring about cultural change

Mar 1, 2020 —

In an email to iWOAW, U.S. national aerobatic champion Patty Wagstaff writes:

“Every time I’m in the air, which is often, I hear the controllers (and other pilots) refer to every other pilot in the air as a “he.” Certainly, we could ask ATC to do the same?”

The JDA Journal has repeatedly included information about women like Ms. Brown and efforts like the Institute for Women Of Aviation Worldwide petition:

Amazing Global Impact Of WIA’s Girls In Aviation Day Plus Secretary Chao’s Women In Aviation Advisory Board


The Unrecognized Contributions Of Women In The Federal Aviation Administration


AOPA, Signature Flight And Women In Aviation Moving In The Same Mission-STEM


Women As Aviation Role Models


Great Aviation Leader Dies With Long List Of Achievements- A WASP And So Much More–Women In Aviation Scholarship ?


Early Women Pioneers Of Aviation @ Boeing Plus United’s Support Today


News About Women In Aviation
Women Of Aviation Worldwide Week


Women Are Slipping The Surly Bonds Of Aviation, Too


Professional Aviation Engineer Sets An Example For Other Women To Follow Her Trail


National Aviation Hall Of Fame Recognizes Women In Aviation


WAI’s Dr. Chabrian INSPIRES


Three Aviation Heroes In FAAland


Trailblazer In ATC, BJ Smith, HONORED


Anne Bridge Baddour Is The 2018 Katherine Wright Trophy Winner  


O’Hare Airport Loses A Tremendously Talented Commissioner; Her Able Successor Has Big Shoes To Fill


First Woman FAA Administrator Is Named First Woman UA Chair


Southwest Captain Shults: Nerves Of Steel + Heart Of Gold= HERO


Margaret Gilligan Retires From FAA Having Laid Sound Foundations For A Proactive, Consistent & Dynamic Safety Culture


Bowens Built An Exceptional Record At SAN & Heads For Retirement With Well-Deserved Praise!


Winged Victory of Samothrace


[1] On October 9, 2019 U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao today announced that the Federal Aviation Administration(FAA) has reestablished the Women in Aviation Advisory Board https://www.faa.gov/news/press_releases/news_story.cfm?newsId=24294.

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