Janet Bragg

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Janet Bragg
Born March 24, 1907
Griffin, Georgia
Died April 11, 1993(1993-04-11) (aged 86)
Blue Island, Illinois
Nationality American
Other names Janet Harmon
Occupation Aviator

Janet Harmon Waterford Bragg (born Jane Nettie Harmon) [1] (March 24, 1907 — April 11, 1993) was an American amateur aviator.[2] She was the first African-American woman to hold a commercial pilot license.[3]

Janet Harmon was born on March 24, 1907, in Griffin, Georgia.[1] She was the seventh child in a family with African and Cherokee ancestry.[1] Harmon attended Episcopal schools and Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, and qualified as a registered nurse in 1929.[4] Shortly after graduation she left Georgia for Illinois and was hired as a nurse by Wilson Hospital in Chicago.[4] She married Evans Waterford; this first marriage fell apart in two years. After the divorce Harmon continued to work as nurse, this time for practicing doctors, and attended the Loyola University.[4] In 1941–51 she worked as a health inspector for an insurance company. In 1953 she married Sumner Bragg; together the Braggs managed nursing homes for the elderly in Chicago until their own retirement in 1972.[5] Sumner died in 1986 and Janet survived him until 1993.


In 1928, Bragg became the first black woman to enroll in the Curtiss Wright School of Aeronautics in Chicago.[6] In 1933[7] Janet (then Waterford) enrolled at Aeronautical University, a segregated black aviation school managed by John C. Robinson and Cornelius Coffey.[4] She was the only woman in a class with 24 black men.[7] In 1934 she provided $600[8] of her own money to buy the school's first airplane, and helped in building the school's own airfield in Robbins, Illinois. In the summer she learnt flying and obtained her private pilot's license.[4] In 1943 she applied to join the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program. When she went in for an interview, Ethel Sheehy, assistant to the head of WASP, denied her an interview because she was black. A few weeks later, she received a rejection letter from Jacqueline Cochran, head of WASP, for the same reason.[5] Her application to the military nurse corps was rejected, also on racial grounds.[5] She then travelled to a flight school in Tuskegee, Alabama, and completed the Civilian Pilot Training Program. She was denied a pilot's license in Alabama, for being a "colored girl", but managed to receive a license at Pal-Waukee Field, Illinois.[5][7]

Bragg was involved in the inception of the National Association of American Airmen, designed to represent the nascent profession to the government.


  1. ^ a b c Betty Kaplan Gubert, Miriam Sawyer, Caroline M. Fannin (2002). Distinguished African Americans in Aviation and Space Science, Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 1-57356-246-7, p. 36.
  2. ^ "Bragg, Janet". American National Biography. Oxford University Press.  (subscription required)
  3. ^ Janet Harmon Bragg. Hill Air Force Base. Retrieved 30 October 2010.
  4. ^ a b c d e Gubert et al., p. 37.
  5. ^ a b c d Gubert et al., p. 38.
  6. ^ Edwards Ghert, Vicky (March 12, 1993). "Black Females Claiming Place - Roles in Country's History Noted". The Kokomo Tribune: 9. 
  7. ^ a b c Janet Bragg. National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved October 30, 2010.
  8. ^ Gubert et al., p. 37.; $500 according to the Smithsonian biography.

Further reading[edit]

  • Janet Bragg and Marjorie M. Kriz (1996). Soaring Above Setbacks: The Autobiography of Janet Harmon Bragg, African American Aviator. Smithsonian Institution Press. ISBN 1-56098-458-9.

External links[edit]