Mary Goodrich Jenson was a remarkable woman who broke gender barriers and made no apologies for her opinions. Mary, a longtime resident of Wethersfield, was not afraid to pursue her dreams – regardless of how appropriate they may have been considered at the time. Nothing would stop this tenacious woman who lived well into her ninety-sixth year. The following blog entry does not capture every aspect of her extensive life adventure, but instead views Mary as a pioneer, as a woman, and to many, as a friend.
Mary’s independence and love of literature began young, fostered by her grandfather Elizur Stillman Goodrich, who ran the Hartford – New York Steamboat Co. and Hartford – Wethersfield Horse Railway. Mary had her mind set on becoming a journalist and approached The Hartford Courant’s editor for a job. In conversation with the editor, Mary mentioned that she was taking flying lessons. The editor of the Courant offered Mary a position as a reporter if she could obtain her pilot’s license before a woman employed by The Hartford Times. In 1929, at age twenty, Mary was a Pilot (license #9140) and a Journalist, reporting on all things aviation.
As one of the first few female aviators, she was a charter member of the Ninety-Nines, an organization for women pilots whose members included Amelia Earhart. She attended the first meeting on November 2, 1929 when the organization was established. At age 21 Mary was able to buy her own plane, a Fairchild KR-21 Single Engine Biplane for $2,400. She flew that plane while competing in air shows in racing and “bomb throwing,” dropping bags of flour at targets on the ground. She often flew over Wethersfield and would yell, “I’ll be home for dinner soon” to her parents. Betty Arnold, a friend and neighbor, can remember saying when a plane was flying low over the houses, “There goes Mary Goodrich.”
By 1933, Mary’s aviation achievements included the first solo female flight to Cuba. Unfortunately, her license was not renewed due to vision issues and her flying days were over, but Mary’s adventure had only just begun. She flew on the Hindenburg on one of its last flights in July of 1936, traveled to Virginia to work on the Homestead (a historical and leisure destination), and aided in coordinating the Texas Bicentennial celebration. In her travels she arrived at California and fell into a position at Disney Studios. Mary met Walt Disney a few times, aided in developing the story research department and worked intimately on the classic animated film, Dumbo.
In California she met her husband, Carl Jenson, and they married in 1940. Moving home in 1942 did not bring a calmer life as World War II disrupted the world. Carl served in the armed forces, while Mary aided from the home front. Shortly after the war, Mary and Carl welcomed two children, Bill in 1947 and Ann in 1948. Mary, Carl, Bill, Ann, her niece Mary and Mary’s ailing mother, Ella Reed Goodrich, lived together in their home at 212 Jordan Lane.
Mary was an active Wethersfield resident and lent her talents to many community organizations. In her lifetime, she was the director of the Betsy Ross Corps, a national defense group of women pilots, served on the Wethersfield Board of Education, the Republican Town Committee, the Council of Social Agencies of Greater Hartford, associated with the Connecticut Historical Society, the Wadsworth Atheneum, was a member and strong supporter of the Wethersfield Historical Society, and was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000.
Over the years, Mary saw the importance of her family and her place within Wethersfield history and donated many objects to Wethersfield Historical Society that enhance our understanding of the past. Notable objects include a magnificent 18th century Wethersfield highboy, Hanmer family china, countless early 20th century textiles and much more. Mary passed away in 2004, and her family has established a memorial fund in her honor at the society, which continues her tradition of service to the community.