Thursday, 15 March 2012 06:29

Governor Steve Beshear joined the Kentucky Commission on Women Tuesday to honor Willa Beatrice Brown, one of three distinguished Kentucky women honored this year for their illustrious careers and significant contributions to the Commonwealth.

Willa Beatrice Brown was born in 1906 in Glasgow. In an era harsh for both women and African- Americans, Willa Beatrice Brown sought great challenge. Influenced by aviatrix Bessie Coleman, Brown began flight lessons in 1934 at Chicago’s Aeronautical University. In 1937, she received both a master’s degree from Northwestern University and her pilot’s license – making her the first African-American woman to be licensed to fly in the United States.  In 1939, she received her commercial pilot’s license, making her the first African-American woman to make a career of aviation and the person most responsible for preparing blacks for World War II.  Brown became the first African-American officer in the Civil Air Patrol in 1941, and the U.S. government named her federal coordinator of the Chicago Unit.  She was the first woman in the U.S. to have both a mechanic’s license and a commercial pilot’s license. In 1942, she became a training coordinator for the Civil Aeronautics Administration and a teacher in the Civilian Pilot Training Program.  She married the Reverend J.H. Chappell in 1955, where they lived in Chicago. Brown died in 1992 at the age of 86. Brown trained more than 2,000 black pilots, nearly 200 of whom became the squadron at Tuskegee Institute, better known as the legendary “Tuskegee Airmen.” In 2002, she was named one of the Women in Aviation’s 100 Most Influential Women in Aviation and Aerospace. In 2003, Brown was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Kentucky’s Aviation Museum.

Glasgow’s South Central Kentucky Cultural Center has an exhibit showcasing Willa Beatrice Brown… Gayle Berry of the Cultural Center tells us…

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Josie Grainger lives here in Glasgow. Her father was a cousin of Willa Beatrice Brown. She told WCLU…

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In addition to Willa Beatrice Brown, two other distinguished Kentucky women were inducted into the “Kentucky Women Remembered” exhibit: Joan Riehm, from Jefferson County, who served for 15 years as the first female deputy mayor of Louisville. She passed away in 2008. Crit Luallen, from Franklin County, worked for six Kentucky governors and recently completed her second term as Kentucky State Auditor.

The Kentucky Women Remembered Committee selects up to three Kentucky women each year to become a part of the exhibit in the state Capitol. With the three current inductees, the exhibit boasts 65 portraits of outstanding women in Kentucky. Thousands of visitors to the Capitol view the portraits each year and learn about the heritage and contributions of women in Kentucky.




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