Every February, most of the world celebrates the traditions, achievements, and history of African citizens from their country. This idea was started by Kent State University in February 1969. Since that time, people have celebrated the popular figures of Black History Month. Too often, though, lesser-known figures go virtually unnoticed. Here are five women you can celebrate all year round:
1. Bessie “Queen Bess” Coleman – Not only was Bessie the first African-American female pilot, but she was the first American pilot (of any gender or ethnicity) to obtain an international pilot license. After hearing of exciting tales from World War I pilots returning home, she made the bold, life-changing decision to take a French-language course, move to Paris, and study aviation. She received her international pilot’s license and returned home as an American sensation.
2. Sarah E. Goode – She was the first African-American woman to receive a U.S. patent. After marrying and moving to Chicago, Illinois, Sarah and her husband opened a furniture store. Her idea came out of necessity when she knew several people living in small apartments. Having a limited amount of living space, her customers benefited from her invention of a folding cabinet bed. She received a patent for it on July 14, 1885.
3. Phillis Wheatley – Phillis was the first African-American woman to become a published author and actually live off of her earnings. Born in Senegambia (probably present day Senegal and Gambia), shipped to America, and sold to the Wheatley family of Boston, Phillis was taught how to read and write. After recognizing her talent, the Wheatley family encouraged her writing. From this unprecedented education, Phillis was able to publish her works both in America and in England. Her works included Christian themes as well as elements of classicism. Her famous fans included founding fathers, royalty, international writers, and the first African American published author: Jupiter Hammon.
4. Cathay Williams – First African-American woman enlistee in the U.S. Army. Born in Independence, Missouri to a free man of color and a woman of bondage, Cathay’s status was that of a slave. Union forces considered slaves to be “contraband” and impressed them into serving as military support. At age 17, Williams was impressed to serve in the 8th Indiana Voluntary Infantry Regiment as a cook, laundress, or nurse. Along the way, she met African American soldiers and was inspired for her own military service. Posing as “William Cathay”, she enlisted on November 15, 1866, at St. Louis, Missouri, for a 3 year engagement.
5. Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones – Born in Portsmouth, Virginia, to Malachi and Henrietta on January 5, 1986, Matilda eventually became a famous African-American soprano. She began singing at an early age in her father’s Baptist church. She studied at several formal music schools and joined many performances and went on many tours. In February 1892, she performed for President Harrison at the White House. She then went on to perform for four other American presidents as well as the British royal family. She became an international success known as “The Black Patti” – in reference to Italian opera singer Adelina Patti.
Even though their lives and achievements should be celebrated all year round, it’s nice to know that their stories can be shared in a momentous month of honoring a people’s history in Black History Month. Learn more about these five women and many more as you dig deeper into the beautiful fabric of history.