New exhibit features women in aviation at Purdue

June 30, 2011

The new exhibit "Soaring to New Heights, Women in Aviation at Purdue" highlights aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart, who worked at Purdue from 1935 to 1937 as a career counselor for women students and an adviser to the Department of Aeronautics.

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A legendary aviator, an astronaut, a university president and other pioneers of flight take on a higher profile in "Soaring to New Heights: Women in Aviation at Purdue," the newest exhibit at Purdue Libraries' Archives and Special Collections.

The exhibit runs until Aug. 31 at the Virginia Kelly Karnes Archives and Special Collections Research Center, located on the fourth floor of the Humanities, Social Science and Education Library in Stewart Center.

"The Susan Bulkeley Butler Women's Archives actively collects archival materials pertaining to women in Purdue history," says Stephanie Schmitz, special projects archivist. "Aviation is a significant part of Purdue history, and many are unaware of the many contributions Purdue women have made to aeronautics.
"Initially, we were planning to display some materials from the George Palmer Putnam Collection [of Amelia Earhart Papers] for a gathering of the Big Ten Women's Conference, which occurs at Purdue once every 22 years. However, many of the women who have donated their personal papers and memorabilia to the Women's Archives have impressive backgrounds in aviation. We wanted to highlight these collections because they tell an important story that reaches even beyond Amelia Earhart's legacy. It is fascinating to go through the exhibit and learn about the lives of these women, and the obstacles they had to overcome in order to pursue interests outside of the roles proscribed to them."

The exhibit contains treasures from among the Earhart materials, including Earhart's helmet, her ice pick (for opening cans of tomato juice on which she sustained herself during long flights) and the "Questionnaire for Women Students," in which Earhart raises provocative questions about men's roles in the home during that period.

Alongside Earhart, there are many women who share in Purdue's aviation history, but few people know of their accomplishments. These women include:

* Curtiss Wright Cadettes, a group of 83 young women employed by Curtiss Wright Corp. who came to Purdue in 1943 to study aeronautical engineering in order help fill the depleted ranks of engineers and draftspersons during World War II.

* Janice Voss, NASA astronaut and Purdue alumna.

* Roberta Gleiter, whose papers document her life and career. Gleiter was one of the few women to graduate from the School of Chemical Engineering in 1960 and later was a recipient of an Outstanding Chemical Engineer Award from Purdue and advocate for women in engineering. After taking time off to raise her family, she launched her career with the Aerospace Corp.

* President France A. Córdova, former chief scientist at NASA.

* Annie Smith Peck, a Latin and elocution professor at Purdue from 1881 until 1883 who was widely known for her mountain climbing abilities, but also as an advocate and spokesperson for aviation in its early days.