1929 photo of a girl in a plane

Firsts in Flight: A Hidden History

April 13, 2019 - August 4, 2019

Old City Hall

Take a “timeline tour” outlining the significant contributions made by women and African Americans – particularly by African American women – to our country’s history of aviation and space flight. Meet pioneer aviator Bessie Coleman, who in 1921, became the first African American woman to earn her pilot’s license. And before her, in 1911 Harriet Quimby became the first American woman of any race to secure her pilot’s license. Meet other “hidden figures,” including the African American women who played a pivotal role in the country’s space program in the second half of the twentieth century.

In Puget Sound, there were the WASPs – Women Airforce Service Pilots – trained pilots who tested Boeing aircraft, ferried aircraft, and trained other pilots during World War II. Hear their stories in a video narrative provided by the Museum of Flight.

Other “hidden figures” include Bellingham’s women who worked in the factories and shipyards during World War II, including Marie Manning, the first female welder at the Bellingham Marine Railway & Boatbuilding Company in 1943.

The exhibit includes the short videos “Trailblazers and Heroes: African Americans Who Flew First” and “Doing the Math for NASA: African American Human Computers.”

This exhibition was provided, in part, by the Morehead Planetarium & Science Center at the University of North Carolina. Special thanks to Seattle’s Museum of Flight. Additional support is provided by the Whatcom Museum Foundation, the City of Bellingham, and the Whatcom Museum Advocates.