Purdue libraries land new rare items for its Amelia Earhart collection

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Purdue University has enlarged its long-standing association with Amelia Earhart by becoming the largest, most comprehensive repository of materials relating to the life, career and mysterious disappearance of the famous aviator.

Donations. Sally Putnam Chapman, the granddaughter of Earhart’s husband, George Putnam, donated 492 items – including rarely seen personal and private papers, such as poems, a flight log and a prenuptial agreement – to Purdue Libraries’ Earhart collection.

Chapman joined university representatives at the Purdue Airport to celebrate the donation during a Discover Purdue event, a year-long campaign to highlight the university’s accomplishments and aspirations.

Together with the university’s earlier Earhart collection, it will be known as The George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers.

See collection online. Digitized pieces of the collection are being placed on the Internet to make the documents easily accessible to the public for the first time.

The announcement of the new Earhart acquisitions also launched Purdue’s “Countdown to 100 Years of Flight” celebration, which acknowledges the anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ first manned, powered flight and the university’s ongoing role in aviation and aerospace history.

Earhart, whose Purdue-purchased plane disappeared over the Pacific Ocean on her around-the-world flight in 1937, served as a consultant in the Department of the Study of Careers for Women at Purdue from 1935 to 1937.

Particular interest. Of particular interest to Purdue are notes – some on university letterhead – for lectures Earhart gave on campus grounds from 1935 to 1937.

The Purdue collection also includes her flight suits, photographs, flight diaries and a model of one of her airplanes.

Earhart became the second wife of the late George Palmer Putnam, an author and publisher, in 1931.

The items represent the balance of Earhart memorabilia he owned and eventually passed on to his granddaughter, Sally Putnam Chapman.

The items. Among the newly donated items are:

* A passport from Earhart’s first solo transatlantic flight in 1932. The aviator had forgotten to take it with her and obtained the passport during a stop in Paris. In it, she lists her profession as “flyer.”

* Flight logs from that same flight. They contain observations made during the course of her trip, including a final log entry that addresses her possible demise due to her airplane’s mechanical failures.

“If anyone finds the wreck, know that the non-success was caused by my getting lost in a storm for an hour,” Earhart wrote.

With the success of that flight – 70 years ago this month – Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.

* A manuscript draft of a premarital agreement proposed by Earhart to Putnam expressing her “reluctance to marry” and adhere to the institution’s “medaeval [sic] codes.”

* Letters written to her parents just before her 1928 transatlantic trip.

Other parts of the collection include lecture notes that capture her time at Purdue.

Lecture material. “A Handyman’s Course,” circa 1935, was a talk that Earhart prepared for Purdue women with three of the four-page outline written on Purdue letterhead.

Along with extolling the practical applications of education she encourages her students to “fix eyes on far horizons.”

Another Earhart talk for a Purdue conference, “On Education and Careers,” champions women’s rights and speaks of an “ideal state” when “both husband and wife earn and are jointly responsible for the home.”

It was during her time at Purdue that Earhart began developing plans for her 29,000-mile flight around the world.

Reports from that time show that she often flew her Lockheed Electra 10E – the plane in which she disappeared – to Purdue Airport, the first university-owned airport in the nation.

First flight attempt. Earhart’s first attempt to circle the earth via the equator ended in a runway crash at Honolulu.

Her second attempt began June 1, 1937, with navigator Fred Noonan. Her last recorded radio transmission was on July 2. The Lockheed Electra 10E disappeared after takeoff from New Guinea, 22,000 miles into the 29,000-mile journey. The plane was never found, and Earhart’s disappearance remains a mystery.

The donation also completes a personal story that has never been told before for donor Sally Putnam Chapman.

A different look. “For the first time people can see the married couple,” said Chapman, author of the book, Whistled Like a Bird: The Untold Story of Dorothy Putnam, George Putnam and Amelia Earhart.

The author and her husband, John D. Chapman, reside at the Putnam family estate Immokolee, in Fort Pierce, Fla.

As she researched her book, Chapman said she came to understand why her grandfather gave the first installment of memorabilia to Purdue.

That research also determined why she chose to give the remaining Earhart memorabilia to Purdue over other renowned museums. She even consulted her friend, Purdue graduate and astronaut Neil Armstrong, about where to give the collection. Purdue was the logical choice, she said.

Fitting donation. “My grandfather chose to give the collection to Purdue because Amelia loved Purdue and because of Purdue’s generous sponsorship of her flights,” Chapman said.

“They were married during Amelia’s time on the faculty at Purdue, and they spent time on the campus together. I am just fulfilling what he would have done.

“I feel comfortable for the first time in the 17 years or so that I’ve had the collection. It’s now in great hands, where it should be.

“The whole collection is finally home again.”

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