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Campus Beat

The Private Amelia Earhart

On a clear day in January 1921, a tall, slender young woman -- wearing brown breeches, high laced boots and a brown jacket -- walked miles down a dusty highway to a weedy airfield surrounded by vegetable farms south of Los Angeles. Amelia Earhart -- well groomed, with a library book on aerodynamics tucked under her arm -- would have stood out in any crowd, according to her flying instructor. She was a loner -- her high school yearbook dubbed her "the girl in brown who walks alone" -- but she was also a leader, a bookish tomboy who was more fun and adventurous than anyone else and who threw herself at experience, especially the wildly exciting kind. She also had her inner "deeps," private wells of emotion and sharp sensitivities that she felt profoundly but seldom shared.

Photo of Amelia Earhart. Courtesy of The Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard UniversityCourtesy of The Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.

Drawing from Amelia Earhart’s private photos and letters, Susan Wels introduces readers to a woman who was much more than a daring pilot in her illustrated biography, "Amelia Earhart: The Thrill of It" (Running Press, ’09).

Among Wels’ revelations about the American icon of aviation: She was a poet who wrote dozens of verses, including a poem titled "Courage" that First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt kept in her desk. Earhart was also a photographer, hospital worker, truck hauler, fashion designer, student of science, social worker and mechanic. She refused to live her life on anyone else’s terms; before she married publisher George Palmer Putnam in 1931, Earhart told him that she wouldn’t abide by the "medieval code of faithfulness."

Image of a monoplane with the caption "Across the Atlantic with Amelia Earhart" Photo from Wischmann's XXX Chewing Gum, Brooklyn, New York.Photo from Wischmann's XXX Chewing Gum, Brooklyn, New York.

Wels, who is finishing her thesis in preparation for her graduate degree in history, credits SF State Professors Mary Felstiner and Barbara Loomis with inspiring the project. The program’s training in archival research helped her at Purdue and Harvard universities, where she studied Earhart’s documents, including the last letter she sent home in case she didn’t return. In it, Earhart described her life "as a grand trip." When she took to the air for the last time on June 1, 1937, the aviator, Wels points out, never felt better: "She was flying forward, toward a destiny of her own making. It was her choice, and she was happy to live -- or die -- with the consequences."

For more information, visit www.ameliaearhartbook.net


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