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Betty Francis

Government lawyer and state government administrator Betty Hager Francis was born and raised in Washington, D.C. Her father, William Henry Hager, was a supply clerk for the United States Department of Treasury and a part-time carpenter, while her mother, Helen Brown Hager, was a homemaker and owner of a catering business. Francis and her siblings were raised in a devout Catholic home. Her childhood neighborhood exposed her to prominent African Americans such as Charles Houston and Edward Brooke, III, whose niece, Peggy Amos, was Francis’ best friend. In 1963, Francis graduated from high school at the Sacred Heart Academy where she headed the student council.

Francis attended Howard University on a four-year academic scholarship while also working in the Capitol Hill office of Indiana Senator Birch Bayh. She took a year off from college to work on the 1966 United States Senate campaign of Edward Brooke, III in Boston, Massachusetts. Francis got married shortly before graduating from Howard with her B.A. degree in political science in 1967. She then returned to Boston to work at Harvard University's Astrological Observatory. In 1971, she began working at the Harvard University Press, where her boss persuaded her to go to law school. She attended Suffolk University Law School at night, earning her J.D. degree in 1980.

From 1980 to 1981, Francis worked on family and probate cases as an attorney for Greater Boston Legal Services. She then worked at the Boston Housing Authority where she handled landlord-tenant disputes, civil rights issues and labor and personnel cases. In 1984, she was appointed Deputy Chief Counsel for the Massachusetts Department of Public Works. Three years later then-Governor Michael Dukakis appointed her Associate Commissioner of Massachusetts Department of Public Works. Francis directed the maintenance and operation of roads and bridges and worked on a variety of other transportation issues, including the multi-billion dollar project to build the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel (also known as "The Big Dig"). She also served as Chief Administrative Law Judge in that agency. Francis was elected the first President of the Northeast Association of State Transportation Officials, serving from 1988-1994.

In 1991, Washington, D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly appointed Francis as Director of Public Works, making her the first woman to hold this position. She received particular recognition for improvements to vehicle registration and parking management; for the initiation of curbside recycling; and for the successful reengineering and delivery of snow removal services within the District. Francis was named Director of Prince George's County, Maryland's Department of Public Works and Transportation in 1995. She was the first African American and the first woman to hold the position in the County's history. She led a dramatic increase in capital investment in the County’s transportation infrastructure, the development of its regional and community-based transit services and significant improvements in land development and emergency response operations. She served in this post until 2004. Francis has three children and two grandchildren.

Betty Francis was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on May 18, 2004.

Accession Number




Interview Date


Last Name


Maker Category

Park View Elementary School

Sacred Heart School

Suffolk University Law School

Howard University

First Name


Birth City, State, Country




Favorite Season



District of Columbia

Favorite Vacation Destination

Turks And Caicos Islands

Favorite Quote

Get Over Yourself.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City




Favorite Food

Steak, Potatoes (Mashed)

Short Description

State government administrator Betty Francis (1946 - ) worked as an attorney for the Boston Housing Authority, was appointed Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Works, Director of Public Works in Washington, D.C., and Director of Prince George's County, Maryland's Department of Public Works and Transportation.


United States Senate

Campaign of Edward W. Brooke for U.S. Senator of Massachusetts

Harvard University College Observatory

Harvard University Press

Greater Boston Legal Services

Boston Housing Authority

Massachusetts. Dept. of Public Works

District of Columbia Department of Public Works

Prince George's County (Md.). Dept. of Public Works and Transportation

Hager Management Group, LLC

Favorite Color


Timing Pairs

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Betty Francis' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Betty Francis lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Betty Francis describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Betty Francis describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Betty Francis talks about her ancestors and her parents' courtship

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Betty Francis describes her earliest childhood memories

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Betty Francis describes her siblings and daily life during her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Betty Francis describes her childhood neighborhood of Petworth in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Betty Francis describes the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Betty Francis describes her experiences in elementary school in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Betty Francis describes her junior high school years at Sacred Heart School in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Betty Francis describes her religious upbringing in the Roman Catholic faith

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Betty Francis describes her high school experiences at Sacred Heart Academy in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Betty Francis describes her experiences at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Betty Francis talks about her parents' pride in her academic achievements

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Betty Francis describes working on the 1966 U.S. Senate campaign of HistoryMaker The Honorable Edward Brooke

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Betty Francis talks about her impressions of the Civil Rights Movement and her ambitions

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Betty Francis talks about graduating from Howard University in 1968 and moving to Boston, Massachusetts

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Betty Francis talks about her experiences at Suffolk University Law School in Boston

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Betty Francis describes her first jobs as a lawyer

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Betty Francis talks about her tenure at the Massachusetts Department of Public Works

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Betty Francis talks about her tenure as director of public works for Washington, D.C.

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Betty Francis talks about her tenure at the Department of Public Works in Prince George's County, Maryland

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Betty Francis reflects on her achievements in her career in transportation administration

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Betty Francis considers the benefits and pitfalls of working with elected officials

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Betty Francis describes recent trends in the transportation industry

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Betty Francis talks about future plans for her career

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Betty Francis talks about the adult lives of her siblings Beryl and William

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Betty Francis reflects on her relationships with family and friends

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Betty Francis considers her aspirations and things she wishes she had done differently

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Betty Francis describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Betty Francis describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Betty Francis talks about why she believes history is important

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Betty Francis considers the legacy of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954)

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Betty Francis offers advice for those looking to work in the transportation industry

Tape: 4 Story: 11 - Betty Francis reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 12 - Betty Francis narrates her photographs







Betty Francis describes her first jobs as a lawyer
Betty Francis talks about her tenure at the Department of Public Works in Prince George's County, Maryland
And after law school [Suffolk University Law School, Boston, Massachusetts], what was next for you?$$After law school, I had a series of--I left Harvard University Press [Cambridge, Massachusetts] where I learned to edit. I could edit with the best of 'em, 'cause I really did learn from the best about how to edit. So in 1980 I went first to Greater Boston Legal Services [Boston, Massachusetts] in the Family Law Unit. And in the Family Law Unit we did a lot of things, guardianships, divorces. We were the pioneers for open adoption. I keep reading about open adoption now, and I remember that we really were working on that back then. And it was a hard sell. But it was a little bit depressing, 'cause I was still a little naive, and I had to sort of boogie away from there. And then I went right--$$Depressing, how so?$$Well, because it was people who did not have means. And they had, you know, all the social problems and kids that were being--you know, I had to get cart guardianships for children whose parents were either not present, or neglecting them, or abusing them, or whatever. And so, it was just a little difficult. Then I went to Boston Housing Authority [BHA, Boston, Massachusetts].$$What year was this?$$That was 1980, probably '81 [1981]. And during that time, you know, the Boston Housing Authority had fallen into deep disrepair, and so a court order put it into receivership. And this wonderful young man by the name of [Lewis H.] Harry Spence was the receiver and really turned it around so that all--really rehabilitated some old public housing and integrated. And so for three or four years I worked there as an attorney, a staff attorney in the Boston Housing Authority. And one of the senior attorneys there at the Boston Housing Authority moved over to the Massachusetts Department of Public Works, which is the Massachusetts Highway Department. And about, you know, six months after she was there she asked me to come over there to be deputy general counsel, so that was big news in Massachusetts at that time. And so I was very happy to do that. But while we were at the Boston Housing Authority I did a lot of landlord tenant law, and so that was an interesting, exciting time.$And what did you do next?$$After that [director, Department of Public Works, Washington, D.C.] in 1995, when we lost the election, [HistoryMaker] Mayor [Sharon Pratt] Kelly [later, Sharon Pratt] lost the election, and then it was just about that time that another one of my guardian angels, whose name was Major [F.] Riddick [Jr.]. You might know his name. He was chief of staff to Governor [Parris N.] Glendening. And a friend of mine in Chicago [Illinois] came together. She, her name is Christine Boulware, and she had an executive search firm. And a young man by the name of [HistoryMaker] Wayne Curry had just been elected county executive in Prince George's County, Maryland, which I didn't know very much about, but they told me that was my next assignment. You know, my friends told me this is your next assignment. And so I came to work. I met with Wayne Curry, and I was just so impressed with him now. He, too, is a brilliant person, one of the most articulate people I have ever met. And he had a vision for Prince George's County that made me understand immediately what I was to do. I mean he didn't have to sit down and write me a letter. Once he told me what he saw as Prince George's County, I knew what the transportation component needed to be. So all these other experiences I had led me to this, and I really believe that very, very profoundly. And he really transformed Prince George's County. I mean it was a sort of, it was PG County [Prince George's County], it was sort of backwater. I think now we have a recognition as being the only jurisdiction in the country that has gone from a predominantly white, blue collar place to one that is predominantly African American. It has the highest household income of African Americans in the country, which means the world. It has the highest educational level of African Americans in the country, which means the world. And some of the things that have hap- that are happening here in Prince George's, I really do, I know that Wayne Curry was responsible for raising the bar. And I mean even the newspaper doesn't call us PG County anymore. If you've noticed, the newspaper refers to us as Prince George's County. Prince George's County is 500 miles, square miles, 820,000 people. It's almost a thousand people, so it's a major force in this, in this Washington [D.C.] metropolitan region. We have the second, we, we are the second highest technology center in the State of Maryland. We are the number one center for artists in the region. If, you know, people may not know that. But anyway, that's my Prince George's County spiel.