Amelia Earhart Day: How the aviation pioneer's marriage and prenup proved she was a feminist outside of career

Earhart was reluctant to accept the proposal because she did not want marriage to tie her down from pursuing her dreams of flying


                            Amelia Earhart Day: How the aviation pioneer's marriage and prenup proved she was a feminist outside of career
Amelia Earhart and George Palmer Putnam (Getty Images)

Amelia Earhart, who was born on July 24, 1897, was a role model for many young women and girls for years to come. When she took her first flight in 1920, she declared, "As soon as we left the ground, I knew I myself had to fly.” As a female pilot, Earhart set many records. In 1922, she flew higher than any woman had before at an altitude of 14,000 feet, in 1932, she became the first woman (and only the second person) to fly solo and nonstop across the Atlantic, in 1935, she became the first person to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii, to the US mainland in Oakland, California, to name a few.

However, what many don't know is that Earhart was a feminist hero outside of her career in aviation. Her relationship and subsequent marriage to the publisher and author George Palmer Putnam was proof of that. When Putnam first met Earhart, the latter had already built up a reputation as a female aviator who was keen on setting records. Amy Phipps Guest, a wealthy American living in London contacted Putnam to sponsor the first-ever flight by a woman across the Atlantic Ocean. because of his reputation working with another famous aviation pioneer, Charles Lindbergh. Putnam met Earhart to discuss the opportunity and they learned that they had many shared interests like hiking, swimming, camping, riding, tennis and golf. Though Putnam was still married to Dorothy Binney at the time, he and Earhart began a relationship when the latter moved in with him to work on her book.

Amelia Earhart and George Palmer Putnam (Getty Images)

It was only after Putnam's and Binney's divorce was finalized that the Earhart-Putnam relationship was made public. The pair did not marry until 1931 and according to some accounts, only after Putnam proposed to Earhart six times. Reportedly, Earhart was reluctant to accept the proposal because she did not want marriage to tie her down from pursuing her dreams of flying. She also refused to wear an engagement ring. And so, before they wedded, Earhart presented Putnam with a pre-nuptial agreement. 

“There are some things which should be writ before we are married,” she wrote in it. “You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which mean most to me... I want you to understand that shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me, nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly... Please let us not interfere with the other’s work or play [and] I will try to do my best in every way and give you that part of me you know and seem to want.” The agreement also included a clause that Putnam would let Earhart go "in a year if we find no happiness together."

The two married in a very secret ceremony in Connecticut: The only guests were Putnam’s mother and two witnesses. There were no decorations or flowers and the two didn't even exchange wedding rings. As the newlyweds left their small ceremony, the judge addressed Earhart as Mrs. Putnam, to which she responded, “Please, sir, I prefer Miss Earhart."

After Earhart disappeared on July 2nd, 1937,  the US official search ended just a little over two weeks later on July 19. However, Putnam then financed a private search, chartering boats to the Phoenix Islands, Christmas Island, Fanning Island, the Gilbert Islands, and the Marshall Islands. Putnam later wrote of his relationship with Earhart that it was “brutal in its frankness but beautiful in its honesty.”

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