30 Women You Should Know

Over the next 30 days, The Birmingham Buff will feature 30 remarkable women who have made their mark on Birmingham’s history.

A Woman You Should Know #3

Have you ever visited Birmingham’s Southern Museum of Flight? You can thank Mary Alice Beatty for that opportunity. Along with her husband, Donald Beatty, Mary Alice felt strongly that a museum celebrating our city’s aviation history should be established. In 1966, the couple used their own memorabilia to set up a few displays. (Samford University donated space for the exhibit.) The museum moved into their current location in 1978.

Mary Alice shared with her husband a love affair of flying. But had Donald been a more passive man, their story may not have ever existed. As the story goes, the two met at a party at Tutwiler Hotel. Later Donald found out she had traveled to Maryland and had become engaged.  He flew his plane until he found her train. After landing in a field, he boarded the train and located Mary Alice. “Take off that ring,” said Donald. “You’re mine, and don’t you ever forget it.”  They were married in 1925 and would eventually have three children.

screen-shot-2016-08-22-at-3-27-00-pm

Mary Alice Beatty with daughter Mary Alice

Donald taught Mary Alice how to fly, and in 1931, they embarked on an expedition to discover new routes in South America, an endeavor funded by J.P. Morgan. It has been reported they were the first couple to fly over the Andes.

Mary Alice and Donald eventually moved back to the city, settling in Mountain Brook.  Mary Alice wrote an autobiography, “To Love the Sky,” in 1986. She died in 1995.

The Southern Museum of Flight offers a the Mary Alice Beatty Scholarship to a woman 19 to 30 who is pursuing an aviation career.

30 Women You Should Know

Over the next 30 days, The Birmingham Buff will feature 30 remarkable women who have made their mark on Birmingham’s history.

A Woman You Should Know #2

Bessie Sears Estell was the daughter of a baptist preacher who brought his family from Green County, Al. to Birmingham around 1918. Milton Sears had been called to pastor Bethel Baptist Church in Collegeville, a working-class community north of downtown Birmingham.

estellEstell once called her father a pioneer in promoting civil rights in the city, but she was a pioneer in her right, having been the first black woman elected to the city council in 1975.

Estell also worked in what she called “the greatest profession in the world” – teaching.  By the time she retired in the mid-70s, Estell was a principal, but she still cherished her work on the front lines. “Well, the greatest joy in my life is to have [students] come back to me, and say, ‘I remember when you tried to instill this [lesson]; [you don’t know] how much I appreciate it.’ That’s a reward you can’t measure in dollars.”

Listen to Estell describe her life in her own words. 

30 Women You Should Know

Over the next 30 days, The Birmingham Buff will feature 30 remarkable women who have made their mark on Birmingham’s history.

A Woman You Should Know #1

One of my favorite movies is “Auntie Mame” (which is based on the 1955 Patrick Dennis’ novel of the same name and Broadway production “Mame”).  The film follows Auntie Mame as she dashes from one adventure to the next. She’s free-spirited and eccentric.

When I first learned about Birmingham’s Eleanor Massey Bridges, I was struck by how much she reminded me of Auntie Mame. Like Mame, Bridges blazed her own path. Born in Columbus, Ga. in 1899 to Richard (founder of Massey Business College) and Bessie Massey, Bridges grew up in the famed Massey residence on Red Mountain.  (The Masseys had moved to Birmingham when Bridges was three months old.) Some interesting points in Bridges’ life:

  1. From an early age, Bridges declared she wanted to be an artist, over her father’s objections. She was able to train with the local artist Hannah Elliott.
  2. She roomed with Amelia Earhart at boarding school.
  3. She met her husband George Bridges in Birmingham at a debutante party. They were engaged within a week later.
  4. The couple were married in 1920 in her family’s home. Her disapproving parents remained upstairs. The Bridges honeymooned at a camp on the Warrior River.
  5. They studied at the Cincinnati Academy of Fine Arts. Eleanor studied painting while George studied sculpture.
  6. The couple lived in France, Greece, and Spain before returning to Birmingham.
  7. During the Great Depression, she and her husband took in as many as 18 abandoned children over a decade.
  8. She taught in Vassar College’s art department and gave free art classes to students from Parker High School and the Homewood school system.
  9. Eleanor’s “Cyclorama of Birmingham History,” a free-standing collage she began when she was 80, was installed (unfinished) at Bell South, although it was commissioned for the lobby of the Brown-Marx building.

    cyclorama-of-birmingham-history

    Bridges’ Cyclorama of Birmingham History

Eleanor died in 1987. (George died in 1976.)  Read more about this fascinating woman here.