Aviator Rose Agnes Rolls Cousins (March 26, 1920-July 30, 2006) was the first black woman to become a solo pilot in the Civilian Pilot Training Program at West Virginia State College (now University). While growing up in Fairmont, Rose was interested in ‘‘boy’’ things and competed with her brother. Entering college at West Virginia State at 16, she majored in business administration, but association with the pilot’s program rekindled a childhood desire to fly. In 1940, she learned to fly, reportedly telling the instructor, ‘‘I’ll just put my hair up and you can pretend I’m a man.’’ In an open cockpit, Rose learned to put the plane into a spin, fly upside down, and land with the engine off. In order to qualify for a license, she completed a cross-country flight alone, guided only by sight and a compass.
In 1941, she went to Tuskegee Institute with the first group of 10 male students from West Virginia State College to try out for the Air Force training program for black combat pilots. She was rejected because of her gender. Returning to West Virginia she was employed for a time at West Virginia State College.
Rose eventually returned to Fairmont to care for her parents and spent the majority of her working life at Fairmont Clinic where she became manager of medical records. She later moved to her daughter’s home in Washington, D. C. where she died. Though she found little opportunity to use her flying skills, Rose Cousins is remembered for her courage and tenacity in choosing to become a pilot.
This Article was written by Ancella R. Bickley
Last Revised on October 08, 2012
Withrow, Dolly. From the Grove to the Stars: West Virginia State College 1891-1991. Charleston: Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, 1991.
Furbee, Mary Rodd. 'I was Never Afraid of Anything': Pilot Rose Rolls Cousins. Goldenseal, (Summer 1997).