Aviator Rose Agnes Rolls Cousins died on July 30, 2006, at age 86. The Fairmont native had entered West Virginia State College in 1932, when she was 16. The school’s new pilot training program, introduced in 1939, rekindled in her a childhood desire to fly planes. She became the first black woman trained as a solo pilot through the college’s Civilian Pilot Training Program. West Virginia State was the first of six historically black colleges in the nation authorized to establish one of these federally funded programs.
In the training, Cousins learned to put her plane into a spin, fly upside down, and land with the engine off. She also 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, and tried out for the Air Force training program for black combat pilots. However, she was denied because of her gender. Disappointed by the rejection, she moved back to her hometown and spent much of her remaining life managing records at Fairmont Clinic.