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April 2016: Amelia, Eleanor, and their April Night Flight

             A year after Amelia Earhart became an international celebrity as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, she and her husband, George Putnam, experienced an unforgettable evening in Washington, DC. They’d been invited to a formal dinner party at the White House with Eleanor Roosevelt and her brother, Hall, while President/husband Franklin was away. It was April 20, 1933.
            Amelia and Eleanor were birds of a feather. Amelia was “First Lady of the Air.” Eleanor was “First Lady” of America. Each was determined, outspoken, passionate, and strong-minded. They were becoming two of the most famous and adventurous women in the world. And they were friends, having met in 1932 when Eleanor helped introduce the pilot before one of her speeches. Amelia agreed to help teach Eleanor how to fly. Eleanor earned a student’s pilot license. Although Eleanor wouldn’t become a pilot (she and Franklin couldn’t afford a plane and Franklin considered her piloting too risky), she flew more passenger miles than any other woman in the 1920s and 1930s.
            That clear and starry night, after dinner and before desert, Amelia and Eleanor spontaneously stole away for a special flight together over Washington, DC. Regulations required that two Eastern Air pilots fly the twin-engine plane, but both Amelia and Eleanor took turns at the controls above the lights of the city below.
            After they landed and were driven by the Secret Service back to the White House, it’s believed Eleanor may then have piloted Amelia out on the town in her beloved and much-used automobile.
            When the two finally returned to the White House, dessert was served. It may well have been Eleanor’s favorite, fitting for their recent uplifting adventure—angel food cake.
 
Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), shy and insecure as a child, emerged as a public figure when her husband Franklin was elected president of the United States in 1932. She brought her great compassion and concern to the world’s neediest people. As United States representative to the United Nations, she helped create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and became a champion of equal rights for minorities. The most active and influential — and sometimes controversial — of all United States presidents’ wives, she became so respected and admired, she was often called “First Lady of the World.”
            The night Amelia and Eleanor flew over Washington, Eleanor has been First Lady for only a month and a half. She was just beginning to leave her mark on the world. A quarter of a century later, Eleanor was a major figure. In 1959, after a Gallup Poll indicated she was “most admired woman in the world” for the 11th consecutive year, Frank Sinatra asked her, “if you had one minute to leave one word with the world, what would that word be?”
            “That one word would be ‘hope,’” replied Eleanor Roosevelt. “It’s the most neglected word in our language.”
 
You can watch this conversation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0-IaIWwHCk
 
Amelia Earhart (1897-1937), American Aviator, is famous for her flights across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and her attempt to fly around the world. She often used her fame to speak out against war and for women's rights. One of the most intriguing mysteries of the twentieth century is: What happened to Amelia Earhart? In June 1937, she left Miami, Florida, on an around-the-world flight attempt. On July 2, her plane vanished over the South Pacific. The world waited with fascination as search teams from the United States and Japan converged on the scene. But neither she, nor her navigator Fred Noonan, or the plane was ever found.
 
            I’m indebted to author Pam Munoz Ryan (author) and Brian Selznick (illustrator) for their book Amelia and Eleanor go for a Ride published by Scholastic in 1999.

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