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 a writer and advocate focusing on race, gender, and sexual and reproductive rights. In addition to her work at Feministing, Lori is an Associate Director at Planned Parenthood Global. Lori has previously worked at the United Nations Foundation, the International Women’s Health Coalition, and Human Rights Watch, and has written for a host of print and digital properties including Rookie Magazine, The Grio, and the New York Times Magazine. She regularly appears on radio and television, and has spoken at college campuses across the U.S. about topics like the politics of black hair, transnational movement building, and the undercover feminism of Nicki Minaj. In 2014, she was named to The Root 100 list of the nation's most influential African Americans, and to the Forbes Magazine list of the "30 Under 30" successful people in media.

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

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