Denied a pilot’s license in Alabama for being a “colored girl,” Janet Harmon Waterford Bragg became the first African-American woman to hold a Commercial Pilot License. Like most Black Americans during those times, Bragg encountered numerous oppositions in her pursuit of a career in commercial aviation.
Bragg was born on March 24, 1907, in Griffin, Georgia. She was the seventh child born to a family of African and Cherokee descent. After completing high school, Bragg attended Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, where she later qualified as a registered nurse in 1929. Bragg worked as a nurse at Wilson Hospital in Chicago. She then went back to school to become a practicing doctor, which led to her working as a health inspector for an insurance company. All during this time, Bragg decided to enroll in the Curtis Wright School of Aeronautics in Chicago, making her the first black woman to do so.
She later enrolled at the Aeronautical University, a segregated black aviation school, where she was the only black woman in a class with 24 black men. Bragg took $600 of her money to help purchase the school’s first airplane and help build the school’s airfield in Robbins, Illinois. In the summer of 1934, she obtained her private pilot’s license.
After being denied into the Women Airforce Service Pilots Program because she was black, Bragg then traveled to Tuskegee, Alabama and completed the Civilian Pilot Training Program. She was also denied a pilot’s license in Alabama for being black but later received her license in Pal-Waukee Field, Illinois. She was then given credit for the inception of the National Association of American Airmen.