Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Female aviators in the Godfrey Collection

In the process of arranging and describing the Godfrey Collection, I came across information about two female aviators connected to Dorothea Godfrey, creator and collector of many of the collection's materials. 


Betty May Furman, mid-1930s.
Photograph from Godfrey Collection.


 The first of the aviators came to may attention when I came across her photograph among the Furman family photographs. Later, in a scrapbook, I found an undated (circa mid-1930s) feature article from the Schenectady Gazette profiling the woman and including the same photograph. Betty May Furman was the second wife of Robert Van Guysling Furman, Dorothea Godfrey's uncle. Furman was a native of California and moved to Schenectady following her marriage. At the time the article was written, she had been flying for nine years. She learned to fly at the Curtis-Wright Technical Institute and for three years was the only woman enrolled in an engine assembly class. While living in Los Angeles, she became a member of the 99 Club, an organization of licensed female pilots, and served as the president of the Southwest chapter. In the article, Furman says "women, I believe, are able to handle a plane almost as well as men, and in some cases better . . . many women feel that they would like to fly and do nothing about it." Betty May and Robert V.G. Furman lived at 1405 Union Street in Schenectady with Robert's daughter, Barbara. They left the city by 1945, and likely moved to Los Angeles, where Robert V.G. Furman died in 1946.


Marian D. Francis, ca. 1944.
Photograph from Godfrey Collection.
 The second female aviator featured in the Godfrey Collection is Marian D. Francis, a close friend of Dorothea Godfrey. Francis was born August 11, 1921 in Cooperstown, New York. She graduated from Utica Free Academy. She entered into active service as an Aerographer’s Mate Third Class with the WAVES in the U.S. Navy in December 1944. She was discharged in 1946. After the war, Francis went on to the Cornell University School of Mechanical Engineering, where she graduated in 1950. She received a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Union College in 1965. She worked for the Knolls Atomic Power Lab in Niskayuna for 26 years, until her retirement in 1985. Francis was a life member of the Schenectady County Historical Society, a charter member of the Soroptimist Club of Schenectady, and a member of the First Reformed Church and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. She died in 1995 after a long illness. Francis' honorable discharge record, military service record, Naval training course certificate, and pilot training log book are included in the collection.

The Godfrey Collection is comprised of the personal papers of Dorothea Godfrey and her father, Clark H. Godfrey. The collection includes photographs, genealogical information about the Godfrey, Furman, Dillenback, Van Guysling, Visscher, De Groot, and Beck families, and papers and blueprints related to Clark Godfrey's role in the development of Rosendale Estates in Niskayuna.

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