sealPurdue News

March 10, 2003

Public gets first look at Amelia Earhart's private life

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Amelia Earhart’s most personal items, including love letters, fan mail and her last signature, were unveiled for the public to view today (Monday, 3/10) at a Purdue University exhibit.

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The items are part of an almost 500-piece collection her family gave to Purdue last spring, bringing the university's total collection to more than 5,000 pieces. The exhibit kicked off with a 4 p.m. lecture in Fowler Hall by Sally Putnam Chapman, an Earhart biographer and granddaughter of Earhart's husband, George Palmer Putnam. After the lecture, Chapman led attendees to view the exhibit, which is housed in Stewart Center Gallery.

"The exhibit, Flight Trails, is a treasure for researchers and the fans of this female aviator who captured the world's imagination," said Emily Mobley, dean of Purdue Libraries, who helped acquire the collection. "The recent gift completes the Purdue collection – which is the largest, most comprehensive in the world relating to Earhart's life, career and disappearance."

Earhart disappeared July 2, 1937, over the South Pacific Ocean in a Purdue-purchased plane while attempting the first flight around the world. Earhart joined the Purdue faculty in 1935 after an invitation from then President Edward Elliott. She was a counselor on careers for women, and her role was to explore new fields for the young women to enter after graduation.

After his wife's disappearance, George Palmer Putnam donated many of Earhart's belongings, including a flight jacket, to Purdue.

"For years, though, researchers felt there were more of Amelia's belongings, but they were hidden," Mobley said. "Then a house fire in New York was believed to have destroyed them, but really George Palmer Putnam was hiding 492 more items. He could not bear to part with these last reminders of his wife. These items have now been added to the others given by her husband in the Purdue collection."

The Flight Trails exhibit coincides with Purdue's Countdown to Flight celebration and the nation's centennial anniversary of flight, which marks the Wright brothers' Dec. 17, 1903, first flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C.

Craig Martin, director of Purdue Galleries and Flight Trails curator, selected pieces for the exhibit that represent Earhart as a leader in flight and an inspiration for women.

"The Flight Trails exhibit will include her writings on education and careers for women," Martin said. "Her poetry is included, as well as letters from the head of the Navy, a former first lady and average Americans who were inspired by her crusade. All of these are testaments to how this woman and aviator changed history."

One of the highlights of the collection is a written draft of the last telegram Earhart would ever send during her fatal flight.

Also in the collection is a letter Eleanor Roosevelt wrote saying that she recently had acquired her student pilot permit, but her husband, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, would not grant her permission to fly. Earhart's other fan mail includes a letter from a farm wife who tracked Earhart's career and an autograph request from a boy.

Pieces of the collection also depict the adversity Earhart overcame. One letter writer praises Earhart for her flying capabilities, but then criticizes the aviator for not being a mother.

Other items in the new installment include:

• The good-bye letters Earhart wrote to her parents in case she did not return from her 1928 transatlantic flight.

• A passport from Earhart's first solo transatlantic flight in 1932. The aviator had forgotten to take it with her and obtained the passport during a stop in Paris. In it, she lists her profession as "flyer."

• Flight logs from the same flight. They contain observations made during the course of her trip, including a final log entry that addresses her possible demise due to her airplane's mechanical failures.

"If anyone finds that wreck, know that the non-success was caused by my getting lost in a storm for an hour," Earhart wrote in the flight log. With the success of that flight – more than 70 years ago – she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.

• A draft of a premarital agreement proposed by Earhart to Putnam expressing her "reluctance to marry" and adhere to the institution's "medaeval [sic] codes."

• George Palmer Putnam's correspondence and documentation from the search for his wife.

Purdue is digitizing all of the pieces of the collection and making many available on the Internet, said Katherine Markee, associate professor of library science.

"When all of these pieces are digitized, people from all over the world will be able to view Earhart's personal papers and flight logs," Markee said. "Researchers, students and fans will be able to read Earhart's love poems, mail and speeches."

The pieces will be available on the Web.

The Flight Trails exhibit is a collaboration between Purdue Galleries and Libraries.

Putnam Chapman is the author of "Whistled Like a Bird: The Untold Story of Dorothy Putnam, George Putnam and Amelia Earhart." Her lecture addressed the relationship between Earhart, her husband Palmer Putnam and his first wife Dorothy Putnam. The exhibit, in the new Stewart Center Gallery, closes April 27.

Pieces from Palmer Putnam's first gift to Purdue, as well as the latest gift, will be on display at the Indiana Historical Society from April 16 to Aug. 3.

Writer: Amy Patterson-Neubert, (765) 494-9723,

Sources: Emily Mobley, (765) 494-2900,

Craig Martin, (765) 494-3061,

Katherine Markee, (765) 494-2904,


Related Web sites:
Purdue's George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers
Indiana Historical Society


Related story:
Purdue Libraries land new rare items for Amelia Earhart Collection


Sally Putnam Chapman autographs her book "Whistled Like a Bird" for Michele Cervone, of Clifton, N.J., who attended the opening of the Flight Trails exhibit on Monday (3/10) at Purdue University. The exhibit features a selection of almost 500 items donated to Purdue by Chapman, biographer and granddaughter of Earhart's husband. The latest installment brings Purdue's Earhart collection to more than 5,000 pieces. Flight Trails is open in Stewart Gallery through April 27. (Purdue News Service photo/David Umberger)

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