New Quarters Highlight Pioneering Aviator Bessie Coleman

Michele Debczak
2023 American Women Quarter featuring pilot Bessie Coleman.
2023 American Women Quarter featuring pilot Bessie Coleman. / United States Mint
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In life and in death, Bessie Coleman hasn’t always received the same recognition as some of her peers. That’s beginning to change: Schools, airport streets, and a Chicago library all bear her name today. Now the barrier-breaking aviator has a special-edition quarter celebrating her achievements.

The new quarter is the inaugural coin of the U.S. Mint’s 2023 American Women Quarters Program. It features George Washington on the front and Bessie Coleman replacing the standard eagle image on the tail-side. The Black Cherokee pilot is shown donning her flight gear as her Curtiss “Jenny” biplane soars behind her. The date 6.15.1921 inscribed at the bottom of the coin is the day Coleman received her pilot’s license.

The U.S. mint commissioned Chris Costello to design the portrait. “As I researched Bessie Coleman’s life, I discovered that the existing photographs and illustrations of her were posed and very familiar. I challenged myself to create an original, never-before-seen portrait that was not based on any known photo,” the designer said in a statement. “My wife and young daughter, who are of African and Native American heritage, modeled for my drawing that depicts her in a more active posture—readying her goggles as she takes to the skies.”

Portrait of pioneer aviator Bessie Coleman.
Portrait of pioneer aviator Bessie Coleman. / George Rinhart/GettyImages

When Coleman was unable to attend flight school in America due to segregation, she traveled to France with dreams of becoming a pilot. She achieved her goal at age 29, making her the first Native American and the first Black woman pilot. Additionally, she was the first Black person to hold an international pilot’s license. After a thrilling career that involved stunt flying for live audiences, Coleman died in a plane accident at age 34.

Coleman isn’t the only pioneering American woman being honored by the new quarter program. Now through 2025, the U.S. mint plans to circulate coins spotlighting journalist Jovita Idar, composer and dancer Edith Kanakaʻole, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and prima ballerina Maria Tallchief.

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