Born Ethel Madison Bailey in Richmond, Virginia, she was the daughter of Margaret M. Jones Bailey and Madison J. Bailey. Her father was the second licensed Black building contractor in Richmond. She moved to New York City, where she studied architecture privately.
She returned to Richmond in 1921 and began designing houses for locals. Furman worked with her father, and also raised three children. During this time she worked other jobs to supplement income to raise her family. As an African-American woman she experienced discrimination in the architecture community,[how?] both because she was black and a woman. She would often have to submit her job proposals through male contractors with whom she worked. In the late 1920s she was the only woman to attend the Hampton Institute's annual builder's conference. Up into the 1940s she trained in drafting through Chicago Technical College. Furman designed over 200 churches and residences in Virginia and two churches in Liberia.
- Dreck Spurlock Wilson (ed.), African-American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary, 1865-1945, Routledge, 2004, pp. 222-6.
- "Ethel Bailey Furman". Virginia Women in History. Library of Virginia. 2010. Retrieved 6 February 2012.
- Dreck Spurlock Wilson (ed.), African-American Architects: A Biographical Dictionary, 1865-1945, Routledge, 2004, p. 222.
- Selden Richardson, Maurice Duke (ed.), Built by Blacks: African American Architecture and Neighborhoods in Richmond, Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2008, p. 92.
- Photograph showing Ethel Furman as the sole woman at Negro Contractors' Conference at Hampton Institute, February 14, 1928.
- Ethel Bailey Furman Memorial Park.
- "Ethel Bailey Furman (1893–1976)", Virginia Women in History, Library of Virginia.
- "This Day in History", February 14, 1928. Photograph captioned: A Negro Contractors' Conference Was Held at Hampton Institute. In this photograph of people who attended the Negro Contractors' Conference at Hampton Institute, the central figure is Ethel Bailey Furman (1893–1976).... Furman designed numerous public and private buildings in Richmond and the surrounding area including Fair Oak Baptist Church in Richmond and Mount Nebo Baptist Church in New Kent County."