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Harriet Davidson Nye, New Mexico’s First Aviatrix

Born: 1907 - Died: 1995

Grandma was a tall woman, who would never hesitate to get on the floor to play with the glorious dollhouse she had at her house, or go out into any weather to push me and my sister in the backyard tire swing. As little girls, my grandma would tuck us in between cool sheets piled high with thick warm blankets and read to us with her sweet southern accent until we fell sound asleep. As I grew older I saw my grandma's generous heart. She was kind to friends and family, inviting her single friends to family events and holiday gatherings. She had many sincere friendships, friendships that spanned for more than 60 years.

My grandma, Harriet Davidson Nye, was born in a small town in North Carolina called Hope Mills, in 1907. Education was very important to her. She attended Randolph-Macon Women's College from 1924 to 1926 and the University of New Mexico in 1928 and 1929. She moved to Albuquerque because she suffered with asthma and hoped New Mexico's dry climate would be good for her health. During her time at UNM she was part of Alpha Delta Pi where she met a group women grandma always called "the girls." "The girls" were among my grandma's life long friends.

Grandma left UNM to attend Boston University where she received a degree in chemistry in 1930. After graduating she worked as a lab technician at Cottage Hospital on Nantucket Island in the early 1930s. While she only spent a few years on Nantucket, it held a special place in her life, and she returned often throughout her life.

Grandma moved back to New Mexico in the 1930s where she joined her parents who had recently moved to Albuquerque. She always liked to tell me and my sister how great it was to move to New Mexico where she and her mom could dress like ladies and not suffer from the dense Southern heat.

In 1933, while working at the Public Health Laboratory in Albuquerque, she took a free plane ride as part of a local flight promotion and soon began taking flying lesions with Albuquerque pilot, Bill Cutter. In 1938 the United States Postal Service was looking for ways to promote its new airmail service. On May 19, 1938 the US Postal Service was in the midst of celebrating National Airmail Week and as part of that promotion grandma flew the first bag of mail from Albuquerque to Socorro in her four-seat Fairchild 125. Socorro did not have a runway, so the local highway department scraped one out, down the middle of a dry creek bed. Since most of the children in Socorro, and many of the adults, had never seen an airplane on the ground, the schools were closed the day Davidson flew in, and the whole town turned out to see her and her airplane.

I learned as I got older, that my grandma's mom was not happy with her decision to fly, but she did it anyway. She was the first woman to own and fly her own plane in New Mexico and was the founding member of New Mexico's chapter of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization for women pilots.

A year after her airmail flight, grandma married Kyle Nye. My grandpa Nye was living in Albuquerque and working as a dentist. In September of 1939 he left town on a trip to California to vacation and visit family. As he started out on his trip he stopped in Gallup and called grandma to see if she would marry him. She left immediately for Gallup where they were married in a Methodist parsonage. They went on to California for their honeymoon. When grandpa called from Gallup, grandma was working on her photo album. She left for Gallup and never finished getting those pictures into her album.

My dad, Kyle Nye II, was born in 1943. He is an only child, and my grandma's friends always spoke about her amazing patience dealing with my dad as a young child.

In February 1995 grandma died at the age of 88 in the Albuquerque home she and grandpa had built and lived in for over 50 years.

Other Sources:

Oakes, Claudia M. “United States Women in Aviation: 1930-1939.” Smithsonian Studies in Air and Space 6 (1985) : Harriet Davidson, p.7-9.

Nye, Harriet D. Letter to Claudia M. Oakes, 1 November, in files of C. M. Oakes, Department of Aeronautics, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. , 1882.