Before his death testing a prototype biplane, Edna Christofferson (1886-1945) promised her husband, Silas, she’d solo. Little wonder it took her 16 years to work up to it. Edna watched Silas’ tragic crash in 1916, and was the first to reach his broken body.
Edna was Mrs. Becker when she met Silas Christofferson, four years her junior.
She was one of the first women to fly above Vancouver. Always adventuresome, she sat on the lower wing clinging to a strut. When Silas flew her in a hydroplane from Oaks Amusement Park to 1,250 feet, the ride sparked her flying bug. Future excursions led to their 1912 marriage, much to their friends’ surprise. After a move to San Francisco, she helped her husband repair planes in his shop.
When widowed, she enrolled in an X-ray class and worked at Portland hospitals and rose to become vice president of the national association of X-ray technicians. In 1925, she founded her own X-ray school, which offered basic and graduate courses. When a chiropractor falsified an X-ray, she appeared in court to expose the scam, establishing herself as an expert witness regarding X-rays.
She formed organizations to support women’s shooting and flying.
The only female competitor at a 1927 international police shooting competition, she earned second place. In 1928, she started the Oregon Woman’s Revolver Club with 15 members. The women often used the Vancouver Barracks shooting range. The Army awarded Edna an expert medal for making 85 percent of her shots at the barracks. After a competition in New York where she scored 96 of 100 shots, the New York City police captain called her the best woman revolver shooter he’d ever seen.
In 1930, she created the Women’s National Aeronautic Association where she met famous fliers Dorothy Hester and Edith Foltz. All eyes seemed on the widowed pilot during her solo in 1931. The Oregonian described her plane as a “modern 90-horsepower air-cooled” airplane built for more strain than the rainy day put on it, stating that 20 years earlier planes couldn’t fly in a shower. Before ending her solo flight, she flew over the Oregon airfield named for her husband and dropped flowers. The next year, Oregon’s governor appointed Edna to the state board of aeronautics.
In February 1932, she flew to Alaska with William Graham to find a lost steamship holding valuable furs. En route, she sent dispatches to The Oregonian until she and Graham were lost for 10 days on an uncharted Alaskan lake. Newspapers reported daily updates on the search. After searchers found them, both returned to Portland. Edna Christofferson went back to Alaska the next year to work two gold mines she claimed.
In 1945, when Edna died in Vancouver, her obituaries mistakenly reported that she was 64 and named her the oldest woman flyer, but she was 59.
Martin Middlewood is editor of the Clark County Historical Society Annual. Reach him at ClarkCoHist@gmail.com.