(WOMENSENEWS)–She was 32 and never married; he was a decade older and just divorced. She was the most famous female aviator in America; he was a successful publisher (Charles Lindbergh was one of his authors), explorer and writer. The civil ceremony, in his mother’s house on the Connecticut shore, took five minutes and, the newspapers noted, omitted the bride’s promise to “obey her husband.”
The two had met in 1928, when George Putnam chose Amelia Earhart as the first woman to cross the Atlantic in an airplane–as a passenger. Earhart had been “pushing the envelope” for women for several years, promoting female pilots, and she did the same in her marriage. Before the wedding ceremony, Earhart gave Palmer a letter containing “things which should be writ before we are married.”
“You must know again my reluctancy to marry,” it said, “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 a 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 times the confinements of even an attractive cage. I must extract a cruel promise, and that is you will let me go in a year if we find no happiness together.”
The partnership flourished. A year later, Earhart made her historic solo crossing of the Atlantic. Putnam brilliantly organized her public appearances and managed her skyrocketing fame, including her endorsement of a line of flight luggage bearing her name and her creation of a flying suit–with loose trousers, a zipper top and deep pockets–featured in Vogue magazine.
And it was Putnam who issued decreasingly optimistic bulletins to the press in the days after Earhart’s plane disappeared in the Pacific on July 2, 1937.
Louise Bernikow is the author of nine books, including “The American Women’s Almanac.” She takes her women’s history slide show to communities and campuses all over the country.
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