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Earhart, Amelia (1897-1937) | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections

Name: Earhart, Amelia (1897-1937)

Historical Note:

On September 26-27, 1934, Purdue President Edward C. Elliott heard Amelia Earhart speak at a luncheon in New York on women’s careers and he was so impressed with her talk that he asked if she would visit Purdue and give a lecture for the women students. Earhart spoke at a banquet at Purdue on October 17, 1934, and discussed “Activities for Women After College.” After several talks with President Elliott, a contract was negotiated in 1935, stating that Amelia Earhart would be employed by Purdue as a visiting faculty member. From the autumn of 1935 until her disappearance in July 1937, Earhart served as Consultant in the Department for the Study of Careers for Women and Technical Advisor in the Department of Aeronautics for Purdue.

Earhart was attracted to Purdue because at the time it was the only university in the United States with its own fully equipped airport. She was also impressed that practical mechanical and engineering training was available without discouragement to the women students on campus. At Purdue, Amelia lectured, conducted conferences with Purdue faculty and students, and initiated studies on new career opportunities for women. Perhaps most importantly, she served as an example of a successful modern woman for the female students.

While working at Purdue, Amelia stayed in South Hall (now called Duhme Hall) on campus. South Hall students vied with each other to sit at Amelia’s table during meals. Buttermilk became an overnight favorite beverage on campus because it was Amelia’s choice.

Amelia’s husband, George Palmer Putnam, first planted the idea of a “flying laboratory” airplane for research into President Elliott’s mind. In the autumn of 1935, at a dinner party at Elliott’s home, Amelia outlined her dreams for women and aviation and spoke of her desire to conduct studies on how long-distance flying affected pilots. Before the evening was over, guest David Ross offered to donate $50,000 as a gift toward the cost of providing a machine suitable for the flying laboratory. Further donations totaling $30,000 in cash and equipment were received from J. K. Lilly, Vincent Bendix, and manufacturers Western Electric, Goodrich, and Goodyear. The $80,000 formed the basis of “The Amelia Earhart Fund for Aeronautical Research.” The fund’s primary objective was to enable the development of scientific and engineering data of vital importance to the aviation industry. The Earhart Fund financed Amelia’s “flying laboratory,” providing funds for a new Lockheed Electra airplane specially outfitted for long-distance flights. It was in this plane that Amelia disappeared during her world flight attempt in 1937.

In 1940, George Palmer Putnam donated Amelia Earhart’s papers, photographs, medals, flight jacket, and other belongings to Purdue University. In 2002, Putnam’s granddaughter, Sally Putnam Chapman, donated an additional group of Earhart personal papers to Purdue. These include personal letters, poems, and Amelia’s famous pre-marital agreement. Purdue University Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections owns the largest, most comprehensive collection of materials in the world relating to Amelia Earhart.

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