When you read some of Amelia’s earlier life, you discover an adventuresome girl, gracious and somewhat shy on the outside, although willful and independent on the inside. She was polite, yet freewheeling and answered to no one. She is the typical difficult woman, who finds it stimulating to upset the apple carts.
Coming from a prominent Kansas family, her grandfather was former federal judge and bank president, she had manners and a good education. From her grandmother, who didn’t approve of her tom-boy granddaughter’s high jinx, she learned a very valuable skill: to tell people what they want to hear, then do whatever the hell you want. Amelia didn’t look like the typical rough and ready pilot. After setting many records and as a passenger on the triumphant trans-Atlantic flight, her name was becoming known.
Then she met the Putman’s, George and Dorothy, who were of great wealth and influence. They sponsored her at their estate in Rye, NY, so that she could write a book of the trans-Atlantic flight experience and George could work on promoting her. Promote her he did. Dorothy had wanted a divorce and this gave her a reason out so she could pursue her own love interests in a younger Yale student.
George proposed to Amelia and on the day of their wedding she penned a letter, that read in part: You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which means most to me…On our life together…I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly…Please let us not interfere with the others’ work or play, nor let the world see our private joys or disagreements. In this connection I may have to keep some place where I can go to be myself, now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinement of even an attractive cage.”
She addressed it GPP and signed it A.E. In it she also promised to do her best to make the marriage work in every way. George was the right man to receive such a letter. Only after Amelia’s death did he reveal its existence, calling it evidence of his late wife’s gallant inward spirit.
Cast as “Lady Lindy,” dressing in the aviatrix duds of the time, Amelia had proved able to compete in the he-man’s world of aviation without appearing in any way threatening. She was the pin-up girl in an aviator cap, not something most women could pull off. Her husband, George, would run side-by-side photos in the papers of her also in her elegant evening attire, long strand of pearls and cloche hat. Men didn’t feel threatened and women were encouraged and inspired.
Amelia did plenty to promote herself by being a tireless advocate for women, founded the Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots, and had her own clothing line. She was made an honorary major in the U.S. Airforce and given a pair of silver wings, which she wore on her pearls. After her harrowing solo flight across the Atlantic, which she did not announce beforehand, she received a gold medal from National Geographic Society and Congress presented her with a Distinguished Flying Cross.
The great dream was to fly around the world. Her and co-pilot, Fred Noonan, took off from Oakland California in May 20, 1937, heading east, across the U.S., down the east coast, South America, across the Atlantic to Africa, southern edge of Arabia, India and arriving in Lae, New Guinea on June 29th. Their last leg was the 7000 miles across the Pacific. The tiny 1.7 square mile island of Howland was the last stop, 2556 miles northeast of Lae. With the U.S. Coast Guard Itasca moored nearby and belching a thick column of smoke as a signal, the Itasca received a few radio transmissions as Amelia and Fred made their approach, but the Electra never arrived.
Recent discoveries, using new technologies, is revealing new clues of Amelia and Fred’s surmise. The final radio transmissions were heard by short-wave radio enthusiasts around the world, some which have just been made public. The new National Geographic program “Drain the Oceans,” using satellite imaging, has also uncovered long lost histories. It’s just a matter of time when Amelia’s fate will be known. Lots of clues remain, as this was just a couple years before the beginning of WWII and governments were not forthcoming in what they knew.
Though Amelia has been gone for some 80 years, her difficult woman philosophy lives on. “Adventure is worthwhile in itself. Men have always done things because it gave them pleasure and a sense of achievement. So why shouldn’t women be granted the same privilege?”
Be your “difficult self” and do what gives you satisfactions and makes your world spin. Amelia’s name lives on to give all of us hope in knowing we can accomplish things great and small. Here’s to all who are stimulated enough to “upset the apple cart.”
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