Purdue News

June 10, 2005

'Taking Flight' honors women aviators, inspires new generation

Amelia Earhart

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A special collection of Amelia Earhart memorabilia on display this month in the Purdue University Libraries is honoring the pioneering pilot and her peers while inspiring a new generation of women.

"These women changed history as they overcame societal stereotypes to pursue their dreams of becoming women pilots," said Purdue archivist Sammie Morris. "They laid the groundwork for future women aviators."

The display runs until June 30 in Stewart Center, Room 279, and is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Taking Flight documents the first women's cross-country air race and highlights the early struggle by female pilots to gain equality and their bonding through adversity. The display includes an Earhart flight suit and cockpit accoutrements, news articles documenting the exploits of pilots in the Women's Air Derby of 1929, and post-race correspondence among the pilots, including plans to capitalize on their highly-publicized achievement.

A discreet meeting of the pilots under the grandstands at the finish line of the first derby spurred creation of the first official organization of licensed female pilots, the "Ninety-Nines." Earhart was elected the group's first president before eventually being hired by Purdue to serve as a women's career counselor.

When men continued to resist racing with them, the "Ninety-Nines" staged a series of races known as the Powder Puff Derby. The women co-opted that originally derisive description of the 1929 race, which had been designed as a publicity stunt for a men's event. In 1929, the press also applied patronizing nicknames to the women themselves, including Petticoat Pilots, Sweethearts of the Air, Flying Flappers, etc. But before that original Santa Monica-to-Cleveland derby ended, contestants endured in-flight fires, mechanical failures, apparent sabotage, crash landings, illness and even death.

Taking Flight is timed to correspond with the annual aviatrix Air Classic cross-country race that is anchored this year at the Purdue University airport. A day after finishing the race, which runs from June 21-24, contestants will visit the library archives room in Stewart Center to see photos and publications featuring the women who were their trailblazers.

Taking Flight, which is free and open to the public, draws from the world's largest Earhart collection. Donated by Earhart's husband and family, The George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers includes photographs, medals and previously unseen letters, telegrams and flight logs. Through an ongoing digitization project, about half of the collection is viewable online.

Writer: Jim Schenke, (765) 494-6262, jschenke@purdue.edu

Source: Sammie Morris, assistant professor of library science/archivist, (765) 494-2905, morris18@purdue.edu

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


Note to Journalists: A national group of women pilots will tour the display from 4-6 p.m. on June 25. Media are welcome then, during public hours (8 a.m. to 5p.m. Monday through Friday), through the remainder of the month or by special appointment. For details, contact Sammie Morris at (765) 494-2905.


Related information:
Aviation past, future fly high at Purdue for Air Race Classic

Original Amelia Earhart song: (3 minutes 23 seconds)


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