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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly."

Posted by on Tue, Dec 11, 2012 at 11:18 AM

earhart.prenup.jpeg
Amelia Earhart was monogamish before monogamish was cool. Feministing:

Wondering what a feminist icon living in the earlier half of the 1900′s thought about love and marriage? Look no further than the document above, a letter from Earhart to her future husband George Putnam.

You’ll remember Earhart became famous as the first female aviator to fly a solo transatlantic flight, redefining expectations of women along the way. Then, she tragically disappeared during a flight in 1937 (only to reappear in a “carefully scrubbed” and “exasperatingly dull” movie in which she was played by Hilary Swank, but that’s for another post).

Of course, we love her anyway for her courage and fierceness, and even moreso having stumbled upon this priceless prenup agreement. Reading through the document, one thing becomes very clear: this woman had a clear sense of what she wanted out of a marriage. And I find much of her marital vision compelling, even today.

Me too, Feministing!

 

Comments (116) RSS

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Urgutha Forka 1
More proof that evangelicals and conservatives bemoan present-day "lack of morals" and pine for a time that never existed.
Posted by Urgutha Forka on December 11, 2012 at 11:29 AM · Report this
Doctor Memory 2
Amelia Earhart: more awesome than you knew, even considering you probably already knew she was pretty goddamn awesome.
Posted by Doctor Memory http://blahg.blank.org on December 11, 2012 at 11:43 AM · Report this
3
That puts things into perspective. An independent woman who wants to work and play without the bonds of monogamy, and can still attract a man. What an epiphany! And the world didn't explode. What a concept.
Posted by SeattleKim on December 11, 2012 at 11:52 AM · Report this
rob! 4
I've seen the "medieval code" snippet before, but not the whole letter.

As someone who's probably screwed himself out of a lot of [even temporary] happiness, her strong notions of maintaining private space, needing time alone, and reserving always a part of herself, to herself, really resonate with me.
Posted by rob! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZBdUceCL5U on December 11, 2012 at 11:59 AM · Report this
spaceapple 5
Yeah, she's a badass. But reading that letter, did anyone else wonder why she got married at all? Can you imagine your wedding day if your wife was that turned off by the prospect?

Dear Husband, I promise to love you as long as you stay the fuck out of my way forever. -A.E.
Posted by spaceapple on December 11, 2012 at 12:08 PM · Report this
6
Feminism has always been good for rich white womyn.
Posted by Sugartit on December 11, 2012 at 12:08 PM · Report this
Matt from Denver 7
@ 5, that was more my take. She sounds almost coerced into it.
Posted by Matt from Denver on December 11, 2012 at 12:15 PM · Report this
COMTE 8
It's interesting that a much of the impetus for the modern feminist movement came as a direct result of the activities of early 20th Century female aviatrices. Beside Earhart, one can also credit Florence "Pancho" Barnes, Opal Kunz, Ruth Rowland Nichols, and Louise Thaden, among many others - all pioneers and multiple record-setters in the field - as unabashedly outspoken proponents of the idea that women were equally, if not more, capable than men when it came to the technical and and physiological challenges of flying.
Posted by COMTE on December 11, 2012 at 12:32 PM · Report this
DowntownTaylor 9
I always thought she was a lesbian, which makes this letter sound like she's making sure she can still get some lady action while married to this guy.
Posted by DowntownTaylor http://www.digitaltaylor.com on December 11, 2012 at 12:34 PM · Report this
COMTE 10
As an addendum, I should also point out that many of this same group espoused the same sort of independence of spirit as Earhart shows in her letter. Barnes in particular, immortalized as the gruff, strong-willed, profane owner of "Pancho's Happy Bottom Riding Club" in Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff", made Earhart's exploits as a proto-feminist pale by comparison.
Posted by COMTE on December 11, 2012 at 12:36 PM · Report this
11
@5, Yup, that describes it pretty well. Letter, edited for clarity:

"Dear Husband-to-be:

Before we go through with this idiocy, you should know:
a) I think this is a horrible idea. Seriously, really horrible. I can't imagine why we should go forward with this, and I don't really want to try to figure it out.
b) I consider work more important than you.
c) I fully intend to fuck around on you. I suppose that means I had better grant you the same privilege I am claiming.
d) I probably will need to disappear for unspecified periods whenever being married makes me feel like chewing my leg off to get out of a wolf trap.
e) I fully expect we will be miserable, and I give you at most one year to prove me wrong.

A.E."

That's not monogamish, it's utmost reluctance. I can't imagine what sort of fool would not take that at face value and tell her, "Okay, I get it, You really, really ... really ... don't want this. The engagement is off."

I'm also trying to imagine a man writing that and sending it to his fiancee, and I'm quite sure that the adjectives that would flow from the peanut gallery to describe his character would definitely contain "bad" and "ass" but never in that particular order.
Posted by avast2006 on December 11, 2012 at 12:47 PM · Report this
AmyC 12
I dunno, you guys. Usually I'm pretty cynical, but I don't think the letter displays any coercion, or deep-down-lack-of-desire to get married to this particular dude (or any dude). I think she's acknowledging the reality of what marriage means in her day for most women and being clear that she wants something different. I don't think she's saying "I don't wanna marry you, but fiiiiiine, I guess I will," I think she's saying, "I don't want my marriage to be what marriage seems to mean for everyone else. I still want to be me. I still want to do my stuff. And I want us to try to stay out of the light of the paparazzi if we can. If you're cool with that, let's do it." I think that if I was the person who was already in love with the righteous badass A.E., this letter would only make me love her more.
Posted by AmyC on December 11, 2012 at 1:11 PM · Report this
13
If the letter had been written today, I'd agree with #11 completely. At that time, though, weren't wives more commonly assumed to be the husband's property, and weren't the roles so much more nailed down? For the time, it's a great letter.

And if it had come from a man, it would indeed seem very caddish, but men were already assumed to have at least the sexual freedom and the work ethic, so it would be more in the line of rubbing his fiance's nose in an ugly reality than of bravely claiming equal rights.

But if anyone wrote a letter like that today, I'd agree; they are best off remaining single.
Posted by mran on December 11, 2012 at 1:23 PM · Report this
14
I don't find "she was the first woman to do what men had already done" to be all that impressive, especially since her plane was better and faster than Lindburgh's, making the trans-Atlantic flight much easier. However, Amelia Earhart was the first pilot of any sort to fly from Hawaii to California.

As for this letter, I'm reading that she doesn't want to get married at all or doesn't want to marry this guy. I'd see this less as a commentary on marriage in general and more as a commentary on Earhart.

@13 No, wives were not assumed to be the husband's property in the 1930s, at least not legally. The 1926 Cable Act even made a woman's citizenship independent of her husband's.
Posted by DRF on December 11, 2012 at 2:08 PM · Report this
The Accidental Theologist 15
Ever heard of a marriage of convenience?
Posted by The Accidental Theologist http://accidentaltheologist.com on December 11, 2012 at 2:33 PM · Report this
rob! 16
Putnam was a publisher and promoter, and though they were each financially comfortable enough to be independent, I'm sure they both saw the business-synergy benefits (considering the time) to marriage. Moreover, they both liked the genteel sorts of physical activity (golf, tennis, riding) as well as a bit of rough-and-ready (hiking, camping).

But Putnam's first and third wives (Earhart was #2) were unhappy with him, probably sexually; one escaped by having a long, distant affair, and the other by initiating the divorce proceedings (he died on wife #4 after only a few years, so hard to say whether that would have lasted).

Wouldn't be the first time a gay-leaning bisexual woman made a clear-eyed entry into marriage with a gay-leaning bisexual man.
Posted by rob! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZBdUceCL5U on December 11, 2012 at 3:02 PM · Report this
17
Marriage wasn't literally slavery at the time. However, gender roles and expectations were more rigidly enforced, and divorce was much more difficult. The interpretation of avast is certainly plausible, but I'd say it's also plausible that she's expressing reasonable caution considering the times.
Posted by DrVanNostrand on December 11, 2012 at 3:34 PM · Report this
18
@13: As far as I can see, the writer of that letter would be better off remaining single, and the fact of it having been written long ago does not change that. What is it about it being an old letter that changes it for you?

If anything, the structural disadvantages for women within marriage in that era would make marriage even more unappealing to such a person back then, than it would be to a similar thinker now.
Posted by avast2006 on December 11, 2012 at 3:42 PM · Report this
19
Exhibit One:

Marriage isn't for everyone.
Posted by pathetic and sad on December 11, 2012 at 5:25 PM · Report this
20
So Danny's Brand New Shiny Just As Good "Marriage" is less than three days old and he is back to advocating whoring around.

sad.
Posted by you foul marriage with you filthy pretense on December 11, 2012 at 5:49 PM · Report this
21
"We love her...even more," not "even moreso." Yikes.
Posted by Drusilla on December 12, 2012 at 6:47 AM · Report this
22
I agree with @12.

People make compromises with the people in their lives, the roles they are expected to play and the culture in which they operate, and the businesses that they operate, especially celebrities. Seems to me that Earhart and Putnam had a partnership together that they were both comfortable with, one which lasted until Earhart's death.

That said, even the most cursory examination of Earhart's last flight moves one to ponder whether she was a semi-suicidal burnout case, so indifferent was she to key planning and safety elements.
Posted by seeker6079 on December 12, 2012 at 9:20 AM · Report this
23
There's not a single line anywhere in that letter that indicates she has any interest in getting married. The closest she comes is saying "there may be compensations", but even that tortuous admission is qualified by the remark that she doesn't have the heart to even imagine them. Feministing says "this woman had a clear sense of what she wanted out of a marriage", but I wouldn't say that's clear from this letter at all. What is clear is that she had a very clear sense of what she did not want from a marriage. What she did want - if anything - and why she agreed is not addressed at any point in this letter.

Good for her for not just caving and being a good little wife, but it's not a manifesto for the monogamish so much as one more reason to wonder why marriage exists at all.
Posted by Chase on December 12, 2012 at 3:51 PM · Report this
24
@ 8: Beryl Markham is another.
Posted by Chase on December 12, 2012 at 3:54 PM · Report this
saxfanatic 25
I don't know why but I so much prefer "aviatrix" to "female aviator".
Posted by saxfanatic on December 12, 2012 at 5:32 PM · Report this
26
"Let's get married so long as, for as long as, it doesn't present any kind of burden or opportunity cost to me."

You can just hear the angels singing, eh?

It's one thing to respect people's personal choices and another to hold them up as moral exemplars.

Any man in my family or circle of friends presenting such a document to his fiance would be run out of town on a rail and the wedding called off forthwith.

With all due respect to the wonderful Amelia, this comes across as nothing so much as a manifesto of selfishness reflecting the facile, pseudo-enlightened "Modernism" so prevalent among certain precincts of American society throughout the 20th Century.

What she dismisses as "midaeval" is not gender inequality but commitment and fidelity themselves.

Now, if that's the way she and Putnam were happy to live, then so be it... but they don't deserve applause for it.

If I told you our friendship will end once it becomes any sort of a problem for me, I am hardly staking out the high ground.
Posted by GeorgeFromNY on December 13, 2012 at 10:35 AM · Report this
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55
That's very interesting, I didn't know that about Amelia Earhart! Another comment mentioned Pancho Barnes, who I've been researching lately and wrote a blog about. She's really interesting and lesser known than Amelia. Here's my blog about her (shameless plug) if anyone is interested in learning more about Pancho :) http://blogblogettyblog.wordpress.com/20…
Posted by Bethany on March 24, 2013 at 3:08 PM · Report this
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59
I still want to be me. I still want to do my stuff. And I want us to try to stay out of the light of the paparazzi if we can. If you're cool with that, let's do it." I think that if I was the person who was already in love with the righteous badass A.E., this letter would only make me love her more.
Posted by stellafin12 http://www.logodesignbuzz.com/affordable-logo-design/ on April 2, 2013 at 10:23 PM · Report this
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113
Good post, keep up the good work.
Airport Taxi
Posted by tom brian on April 5, 2014 at 1:35 AM · Report this
114
what a post really nice work keep it up.Hyp :cheap essays
Posted by cheap essays on April 7, 2014 at 11:17 PM · Report this
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@20: Oh, shut up. Do you hold opposite-sex marriage to be somehow illegitimate just because not everyone who enters into it means to be monogamous?
Posted by call the calling off off on November 14, 2014 at 6:23 PM · Report this

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