In the heady days of early American aviation, when tales of plucky pilots and ingenious innovators were a dime a dozen, few pilots stood out from the crowd as much as Mary Goodrich Jenson, the first woman to earn a pilot’s license in the state of Connecticut. Born in Hartford in 1907, young Mary Goodrich grew up in Wethersfield not far from the active Brainard Airfield, located just north of the Hartford-Wethersfield border, and became fascinated with aviation from a young age.
After receiving formal education both abroad and at Columbia University, Goodrich became determined to realize her dream of becoming a reporter. In the 1920s, with national interest in the burgeoning field of American aviation reaching a fever pitch, she approached the editorial board of the Hartford Courant asking for a job as an aviation reporter — a rather bold request in an era where journalism was an almost exclusively male profession. After learning that Goodrich was taking flying lessons, the Courant editor told her she could have the job if she obtained a pilot’s license first.
Since no woman had yet to obtain a pilot’s license in the state, the Courant probably figured they had seen the last of Goodrich, but the determined twenty-year-old passed her flying test with ease in the summer of 1928, becoming the first woman to receive a pilot’s license in Connecticut history. Shortly thereafter, she also became the first woman with her own byline to write for the Hartford Courant. Her popular column on aviation earned her the nickname “the Girl Pilot,” and as one of the few licensed female pilots in America, she (alongside other notable women like Amelia Earhart) was a founding member of the Ninety-Nines, a national group supporting and encouraging female pilots across the country.
Goodrich spent most of her life pursuing her twin passions of writing and flying. She continued to fly in local shows and competitions, and in 1933 became the first woman to fly solo from the United States to Cuba. During World War II, she actively promoted the Women Flyers of America group, which advocated for the use of female pilots for domestic-based aviation in order to “free up” male pilots to fight overseas. She briefly moved to California to work as a writer and story researcher for the Walt Disney Corporation for a few years before marrying her husband, Carl Jenson, and returning to her hometown of Wethersfield, where she remained active in a number of local civic groups. There, she passed away in 2004 at the age of ninety-six, after leading a long and active life that broke barriers and bettered the world around her. An early aviation pioneer who flew high above the glass ceiling remembered, today in Connecticut history.
Constance Neyer, “First in Flight, First in Print,” Hartford Courant
“Mary Goodrich Jenson,” Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame
“Mary Goodrich Jenson Interview and Tribute Film,” Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame (youtube.com)