Amelia Earhart prenup from the 1930’s lays out a pretty darn modern vision of marriage


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.

Earhart first expresses some trepidation about getting married at all (“You must know again my reluctance to marry…”) for fear of derailing her career, which “means most” to her. Maybe it’s just me, but this kind of agonizing over work-life balance sounds like a distinctly familiar dilemma to the modern feminist. Earhart goes on to give the rough outline of an open marriage (“I shall not hold you to any midaeval [sic] code of faithfulness” and emphasizes rather than monogamy a goal of “finding happiness together”, on which she finds the marriage to be contingent.

Surely there are a lot of modern day feminists who can relate to Earhart’s sentiments about marriage. But while her vision is forward-thinking, the well-reasoned perspective laid out in these papers is strangely reassuring to me, in that it’s a good reminder that ours is hardly the first, second, or even third generation to struggle to define what it means to be an independent, feminist, and successful while also being a loving and supportive partner and perhaps spouse.

For those who are wondering if this little piece of history could be too good to be true, I share and respect your internet skepticism. But this one is real, folks. You can check out the full archive, including this prenup, at the Purdue University Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers here.

Via Morgane Richarson. H/t Amanda Hess.

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman is Executive Director of Partnerships at Feministing, where she enjoys creating and curating content on gender, race, class, technology, and the media. Lori is also an advocacy and communications professional specializing in sexual and reproductive rights and health, and currently works in the Global Division of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. A graduate of Harvard University, she lives in Brooklyn.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/smiles/ Smiley


    Are you appalled or are you rejoicing? Rejoicing because a woman is proposing an open marriage to her future husband?

    Fine by me if a couple agree to such a deal. But the question is this (two, actually):

    1. is such an offer to be trumpeted simply because a woman made it?

    2. would you be shouting hurray if it had been her husband who made such an offer? If yes, again, fine. If no, then why not? Would you be happy to receive suh a letter from your future husband?

    3. (a bonus!) is such an attitude to be lionised? I mean, is it a model for all of us?

    • http://feministing.com/members/nutthb/ Hannah

      I can’t and won’t speak for Lori, but I will tell you how I feel about this letter. I think it’s great that Amelia Earhardt is advocating for an open marriage for herself and her husband. Not because I think open marriages are always good for all people (personally, I wouldn’t want to be in a poly relationship) but because she had an idea of what she wanted from her marriage and advocated for herself. She hasn’t forced her fiancee to agree with her, but she has drawn a line, “This is who I am. Know that my career and the possibility of relationships outside this marriage are vital to me.”

      I think all women should be able to advocate and demand the relationships they want, just as all men should. I wouldn’t have a problem with a man writing this letter, but I probably wouldn’t admire it so much. It’s been easier for men to draw those lines and demand relationships on terms that honor their individuality. It’s pretty awesome to see a women stand up for herself, especially 80 years ago.

      • http://feministing.com/members/nutthb/ Hannah

        Argh! Fiancee, not finance. (oooohhh…I wish feministing would let me edit my post to avoid looking like a moron. But, here I am, in all my moronic glory!)

      • http://feministing.com/members/smiles/ Smiley


        Well put.

        However, I am a little worried about the implication that an offer is only an offer. It is not; it is a window into the soul of the person.

        If a man (or a woman) said ‘I am HIV-positive and I want unprotected sex’, is that an OK offer? Some might accept the offer. Does that make the offer the equivalent of ‘I want to visit my mother once a month’?

        I think not (but I do admit that I don’t know what the line actually is).

        Further, is there really no one to defend fidelity in 2013? Or am I old-fashioned?

  • http://feministing.com/members/michiganchet/ Chet Morrison

    I think I want that to be the template for any future prenup I would contemplate

  • http://feministing.com/members/sockermom/ Lynn

    Smiley: I’ll certainly defend your choice to be fidelitous with your partner. I think it’s a lovely choice. But in order for it to be a true choice, it must be possible to not choose it. In fact, I think that having the option of an open relationship available makes your choice to remain sexually monogamous even more meaningful.

    Defend fidelity as the “right” way to do things? Not any time soon.

    • http://feministing.com/members/girliest/ Jape

      Do you think the gentleman that this pre-nup was intended for had that choice? Doesn’t really seem like there was much of a discussion.