“Like previous flights, I am undertaking this one solely because I want to, and because I feel that women now and then have to do things to show what women can do.”
So wrote the iconic aviatrix Amelia Earhart to President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 10 November 1936, requesting U.S. Navy aerial-refueling support over Midway Island for her next and greatest-yet adventure: a flight around the world. “In the past the Navy has been so progressive in its pioneering, and so broad-minded in what we might call its ‘public relations,’ that I think a project such as this (even involving a mere woman!) may appeal to Navy personnel. Its successful attainment might, I think, win for the Service further popular friendship.”
Appealing to the President’s own personal interests (they were friends), she adds, “Knowing your own enthusiasm for voyaging, and your affectionate interest in Navy matters, I am asking you to help me secure Navy cooperation. . . .”
The two-page missive—preserved in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and brought to our attention by author and longtime Naval Institute friend Edward S. Miller—is a poignant example of what a fascinating glimpse into yesteryear a letter can be. What a loss it is to future historians that the art of letter writing went all but extinct in our lifetimes. Yes, there will be endless miles of emails and such for the scribes of tomorrow to pore over, but they’re just not the same. The language, the signature, the palpable piece of paper itself, all contribute to the sense that you are holding a treasured shard of the past in your hands. And when letter writer and recipient both happen to be larger-than-life figures of their era, all the more profound is that feeling. Amelia Earhart + FDR: That’s right up there with the Elvis-and-Nixon photo.
As Earhart was planning her voyage, others already had flown around the globe, but hers would be the longest route yet attempted—as well as the first aerial circumnavigation by a woman: San Francisco. Honolulu. Brisbane. Karachi. Aden. Khartoum. Dakar. Natal. New York.
And herein lies the bittersweetness of this letter. One cannot help but wonder what might have transpired if her proposed east-to-west flight had fully materialized, but it only made it as far as the U.S. Navy’s Luke Field on Ford Island, Pearl Harbor, before her Lockheed Electra 10E punked out. For her second attempt, she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, opted for a west-to-east route instead, embarking from Miami, Florida, on 1 June 1937.
And it was 22,000 miles into their planned 29,000-mile journey that, on 2 July 1937, they disappeared over the South Pacific—never to be seen again.