Sunday, June 23, 2013

"Travel makes one modest,

you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.
Gustave Flaubert

I never know what will set my research gene into action...this week it was a suitcase...I do love old suitcases, but this one had a unique label. 

I must confess I do not know much about this lost aviator, but I do now, and she is a fascinating woman.  Her childhood was troubled.  Her father was an alcoholic and went for  treatment, but her mother tried to keep the family together, taking her children to Chicago where they lived with friends. According to research, Amelia made an unusual condition in the choice of her next schooling; she canvassed nearby high schools in Chicago to find the best science program. She rejected the high school nearest her home when she complained that the chemistry lab was "just like a kitchen sink." She eventually was enrolled in Hyde Park High School but spent a miserable semester where a yearbook caption captured the essence of her unhappiness, "A.E. – the girl in brown who walks alone."  Rather prophetic...

She aspired to a future career, and she kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in predominantly male-oriented fields, including film direction and production, law, advertising, management and mechanical engineering. She began junior college at Ogontz School in Rydal, Pennsylvania but did not complete her program.

During Christmas vacation in 1917, Earhart visited her sister in Toronto. World War I had been raging and Earhart saw the returning wounded soldiers. After receiving training as a nurse's aide from the Red Cross, she began work with the Volunteer Aid Detachment at Spadina Military Hospital. Her duties included preparing food in the kitchen for patients with special diets and handing out prescribed medication in the hospital's dispensary.

She became a patient herself when a pandemic swept the hospital, and she suffered with severe sinus problems which significantly affected her flying and activities in later life, and her biography states that sometimes even on the airfield she was forced to wear a bandage on her cheek to cover a small drainage tube.


By 1919 Earhart prepared to enter Smith College but changed her mind and enrolled at Columbia University, enrolling in a course in medical studies among other programs.  But she quit, and it was a flying lesson in 1921 that changed her destiny, and she became a pioneer for women in the aviation field.

One afternoon in April 1928, a phone call came for Earhart at work.  "How would you like to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic?" he asked, to which Earhart promptly replied, "Yes!" After an interview in New York with the project coordinators, including book publisher and publicist George P. Putnam, she was asked to join pilot Wilmer "Bill" Stultz and co-pilot/mechanic Louis E. "Slim" Gordon. The team left Trepassey harbor, Newfoundland, in a Fokker F7 named Friendship on June 17, 1928, and arrived at Burry Port, Wales, approximately 21 hours later. Their landmark flight made headlines worldwide, because three women had died within the year trying to be that first woman. When the crew returned to the United States they were greeted with a ticker-tape parade in New York and a reception held by President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.

Putnam saw an opportunity to capitalize and promoted her as Lady Lindy.  She was dubbed "Queen of the Air", and she lectured, authored a book, and endorsed products (history always repeats) for luggage, Lucky Strike cigarettes (this caused image problems for her, with McCall's magazine retracting an offer) and women's clothing and sportswear. The money that she made with "Lucky Strike" had been earmarked for a $1,500 donation to Commander Richard Byrd's imminent South Pole expedition.

The marketing campaign by both Earhart and Putnam (whom she eventually marries referring to it as a "partnership" with "dual control) was successful in establishing the Earhart mystique in the public psyche.  Rather than simply endorsing the products, Earhart actively became involved in the promotions, especially in women's fashions. For a number of years she had sewn her own clothes, but the "active living" lines that were sold in 50 stores such as Macy's in metropolitan areas were an expression of a new Earhart image. Her concept of simple, natural lines matched with wrinkle-proof, washable materials was the embodiment of a sleek, purposeful but feminine "A.E." (the familiar name she went by with family and friends). The luggage line that she promoted (marketed as Modernaire Earhart Luggage) also bore her unmistakable stamp.

This piece in the shop is gorgeous inside...and it has a cover, but the zipper needs repair...still the idea of a cover for a piece of luggage was so clever!  The line was sold through the Macy’s department store chain back in the 1930’s. 

Imagine what a commercial empire she would have had if she had survived that flight?  She was not one to be satisfied with status quo...this line fits her nicely...
"Be an explorer.  The universe is filled with wonder and magical things."


Guernsey Girl said...

What a fascinating post about a really amazing woman. I have read about her in various books and seen the film version of Amelia's life but you have written this so succinctly! The case really is an amazing find.
Ps - We christened our eldest daughter Amelia.

Blogger said...

Are you paying over $5 per pack of cigs? I'm buying my cigs from Duty Free Depot and this saves me over 60%.