Letters of note

In 1932, Amelia Earhart wrote to The New York Times to complain about sexist headlines

A letter that aviator Amelia Earhart wrote in 1932 to Arthur H. Sulzberger of The New York Times. (Twitter / Carolyn Ryan).

We’ve been riding a roller-coaster of Amelia Earhart news lately. First, there was a newly-discovered photo that appeared to prove she survived that mysterious 1937 flight during which she vanished and was never heard from again. Then, as a skeptical blogger pointed out, there simply wasn’t such a photo.

But this week, New York Times masthead editor Carolyn Ryan, who led the paper’s political coverage throughout the 2016 presidential election and was recently named to head up a recruiting effort there, supplied the internet with piece of Amelia Earhart memorabilia that sure looks like it won’t be debunked: a letter the legendary aviator sent to the Times in 1932, just after she’d flown across the Atlantic Ocean solo, in record time. Ryan posted a photo of the 85-year-old letter on Twitter and also noted on her Twitter feed that the missive was unearthed by her colleague, David Dunlap, “who knows all NYT history.”

If there’s any doubt about Earhart being “the true breakout feminist,” as she’s been described, the following anecdote might just cement her status as such. Earhart wrote a letter on June 28 to Arthur Hays Sulzberger, the publisher who led the paper for 26 years through a period of great expansion, to take issue with how the Times “constantly referred to” her in headlines: as “Mrs. Putnam.” She’d married book publisher George Palmer Putnam the year before, and prior to their nuptials, the Times had referred to her as “Miss Earhart” in headlines.

“Despite the mild expression of my wishes, and those of G.P.P., I am constantly referred to as ‘Mrs. Putnam’ when the Times mentions me in its columns,” she wrote to Sulzberger. “I admit I have no principle to uphold in asking that I be called by my professional name in print. However, it is for many reasons more convenient for both of us to be simply ‘Amelia Earhart.’ After all (here may be a principle) I believe flyers should be permitted the same privileges as writers or actresses.” Earhart had raised the point publicly as well in response to other newspapers referring to her by her husband’s name. In her letter to the Times, she hadn’t used the words “sexist” or “sexism,” but it appears that’s the crux of what she was getting at.

And her well-worded letter to the man at the top of the newsroom paid off. By the next month, a Times headline referred to the aviator as “Miss Earhart,” a reference it continued printing, and used five years later when her plane went missing. But, the everlasting effect of her letter is even more indelible than the words the paper uses to refer to her on its physical and digital pages. The effect of the letter lingers in the hallowed halls of The Grey Lady, too. Still hanging on a wall in the boardroom in the Times building to this day, Dunlap reports, is a photo of Earhart and her husband — which the aviator autographed in a satisfyingly cheeky fashion.

Read the full story at The New York Times.


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