Life Achievements Often Require Compromises - Is That OK?

Amelia Earhart had many firsts.

You probably know her as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic.

There is more to the story.

She wasn’t the pilot.

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It was 1928, one year after Charles Lindbergh flew solo from New York to Paris. Several women were striving to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Planes were expensive, and unreliable in the early days of flight, so the one with the money and the courage got the first chance.

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Powerful book publisher George P. Putnam put a team together, including pilot Wilmer Stultz and mechanic Louis Gordon. Amelia’s job was to be the flight recorder, and write a book about her experience. The plane took off from Newfoundland June 17, 1928, and successfully landed in South Wales over 20 hours later.

Stultz did all the flying - had to. I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes.
— Amelia Earhart

But Amelia’s big contribution was her country-wide book tour, publicized by the same George P. Putnam. Amelia’s goal was to make flying available to everyone, even women. She even became the Aviation Editor of Cosmopolitan magazine!

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Her tireless campaign for women to fly, along with several other passionate women pilots, led to the formation of The Nintey-Nines, an organization of licensed women pilots.

Was Amelia Earhart’s famous flight across the Atlantic, when she was only a passenger, a compromise?

Yes.

Did this compromise diminish her achievement?

No.

There were around 200 licensed women pilots in the USA in 1928. By 1935, that number flew to over 700!

Way to go, Amelia!

Amelia went on to set many flight records on her own.

  • October 1922 broke women’s altitude record

  • June 1928 first woman to fly (as passenger) across Atlantic Ocean

  • June 1930 broke women’s speed record

  • April 1931 set women’s autogiro (like a helicopter/air baloon) altitude record

  • May 1932 first woman to fly solo across Atlantic Ocean - she did it!

  • August 1932 first woman to fly solo across the USA nonstop

  • January 1935 first person, man or woman, to fly solo from Hawaii to California

  • April 1935 first person, man or woman, to fly solo nonstop from Mexico City to New Jersey

Here is a lovely biography of Amelia by Katie Teekell.

Remember I said planes were expensive and unreliable? It took someone with money and with courage to attempt the flying records that Amelia did.

She had the courage.

How did she get the money?

She married her publisher.

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George P. Putnam promoted Amelia. But he also pursued her. After his divorce in 1929, he asked her to marry him six times before she finally agreed in 1931.

But she seemed to be indebted to George, instead of in love with George. She seemed to marry him out of obligation and gratitude for the opportunities he provided for her.

How do we know? She wrote him a letter on the day of their wedding.

There are some things which should be writ before we are married -- things we have talked over before -- most of them. 

You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which means most to me. I feel the move just now as foolish as anything I could do. I know there may be compensations but have no heart to look ahead. 

On our life together I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any midaevil code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly. If we can be honest I think the difficulties which arise may best be avoided should you or I become interested deeply (or in passing) in anyone else.

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 confinements of even an attractive cage. 

I must exact a cruel promise and that is you will let me go in a year if we find no happiness together.

I will try to do my best in every way and give you that part of me you know and seem to want.

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Was Amelia Earhart’s marriage to her publicist a compromise?

Yes.

Did this compromise diminish her achievement?

No.

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Learn everything you wanted to know about early aviation in Keith O’Brien’s amazing book Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History