After her June 17, 1928, record-setting trans-Atlantic crossing as passenger and log-keeper in a trimotor Fokker plane, Amelia Earhart captured the public's imagination. The modest, gray-eyed girl with the charming smile and short, tousled blond hair seemed golden in every way. What was lost sight of, although not forgotten by Earhart herself, in the ticker-tape parades were the ups and downs of the years before her famous flight that had made her young life a bumpy ride.
The Schlesinger Library recently acquired an unusually long Amelia Earhart letter from one of the lowest periods of her life to add to its already significant holdings of Earhart material. At a time when most of her letters were hastily scrawled and rarely longer than a page or two, this eight-page, quite legible letter, written on October 2, 1922, to a friend, Clinton Averett, in Logandale, Nevada, stands out. Earhart acknowledges as much, closing cryptically with "This is a long letter—your best-beloved would tear my hair if she saw it."
The letter was written as Amelia Earhart was trying to regain her footing after a difficult time in her life. Twenty-five years old, she had recently given up her dream of becoming a doctor and dropped out of Columbia University to join her parents in California. She had succumbed to what she called her mother's "pleadings" to help them as they struggled to stay financially and emotionally afloat. In Los Angeles, she discovered airplanes and a passion for flying. In the year before she wrote this letter, she earned her wings, bought her own plane, and had been accepted into the California flying fraternity. She also felt the weight of her responsibilities to her parents. Doubting, for good reason, their own business judgment, her parents began to rely on hers. At Amelia's suggestion, they invested much of her mother's inheritance in a gypsum mine in Nevada that a friend had purchased in the fall of 1921. When Amelia and her father arrived to inspect the mine, they were nearly engulfed in a flash flood and watched helplessly when her friend drowned after his truck loaded with gypsum overturned. The mine flooded; the family's security was washed away.
Written several months after the disaster, this letter seems to refer to Amelia's efforts to recoup something of the investment as well as stave off legal action against her mother. She asks Averett to ride around the Nevada property to see if her friend had "put up any kind of discovery monuments or anything to mark the place" where additional deposits could be found and tells him she is hoping to find another promoter "with wads of coin." She also brings him up to date on a suit against her mother: "The suit so far is a fizzle as they have not succeeded in serving Muriel [her sister], as she is out of the way and they really have nothing on poor Mother."
Amelia's efforts failed: Muriel had to leave Smith College; her mother had to take in boarders to make ends meet; her parents soon divorced; and Amelia had to sell her plane and cast about for a job that could pay the bills. It would be several more years of odd jobs, and some, like driving a sand-and-gravel truck, were truly odd, before she would regain her footing.