The New Yorker:
For my tenth birthday, I got the present of my dreams: a piece of Amelia Earhart luggage. It was a small overnight case made of aluminum, with rounded corners, and covered in blue vinyl. Between the latches was a little plaque with an ersatz, feminine signature. (Earhart’s actual signature was loopy and uneven, with a runic-looking “A.”) I had nowhere to go, so I kept the case under my bed and filled it with dolls’ clothes—a use, I suspect, of which Earhart would have disapproved. Play that prepared a young girl for domesticity was anathema to her ideals. When she lectured at colleges—as she did frequently, to promote careers for women, especially in aviation—she urged the coeds to focus on majors dominated by men, like engineering, and to postpone marriage until they had got a degree. On Earhart’s own wedding day, in 1931, the thirty-three-year-old bride handed her forty-three-year-old groom, George Palmer Putnam, a remarkable letter, which read:
You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which means so much to me. . . . In 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. . . . 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 the confinements of even an attractive cage.
The place where Earhart went to be herself was the cockpit of a plane, and that may have been the place where she died. On July 2, 1937, she became the world’s most famous missing person when her twin-engine Lockheed Electra disappeared in the vicinity of Howland Island, a speck in the Pacific about midway between Australia and Hawaii, where the Department of the Interior had built her a landing strip. She and her navigator, Fred Noonan, were attempting to circumnavigate the equator, a feat for the record books, although pilots before them (all male) had rounded the globe at least six times by shorter routes, and commercial transpacific air service had recently been inaugurated. Critics accused Earhart posthumously of embarking on a capricious joyride that ultimately cost taxpayers millions of dollars, the estimated tab for a huge rescue mission authorized by President Roosevelt, Earhart’s fan and friend. Even some of her staunchest admirers disapproved of the last flight. Earhart’s biographer Susan Butler quotes one of them, Captain Hilton Railey, who had helped to launch her career. She was, he wrote, “caught up in the hero racket.”
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