Amelia Earhart took the NYT to task for calling her by her husband’s name — and it worked

Amelia Earhart took the NYT to task for calling her by her husband’s name — and it worked
Amelia Earhart at the controls of her plane.
Source: Staff/Getty Images
Amelia Earhart at the controls of her plane.
Source: Staff/Getty Images

On May 21, 1932, Amelia Earhart completed a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. When she arrived in Ireland that day, she became the first female aviator to complete such a task. Her next mission would be much more local, but quite legendary as well.

On June 28, 1932, she sent a letter to the New York Times office asking for a simple but pointed request: that they stop calling her by her husband’s name. Before she married George Palmer Putnam in 1931, the New York Times referred to her in their articles as Miss Earhart, but after their nuptials they began exclusively referring to her as Mrs. Putnam. She objected, the New York Times revealed on Thursday.

“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. “After all (here may be a principle) I believe flyers should be permitted the same privileges as writers or actresses.”

The day after she completed her trans-Atlantic trip, the New York Times referred to her as Mrs. Putnam while the Chicago Tribune published the headline “I Flew For Fun: Mrs. Putnam.”

Earhart’s request to be referred to by her maiden name touched on a subject that is still debated today. The decision on whether to adopt a husband’s last name wraps itself in feminist ideas. This was not the first time Earhart took a more modern approach to the idea of marriage.

“I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any midaevil code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly,” she wrote in her prenup. She also wrote a letter to her then-fiance saying she had a “reluctance to marry” under the traditional terms. Her letter to the New York Times was a bit of an extension on this idea.

“Not that I’m rabid about it, at all, nor a Lucy Stoner,” Earhart wrote, “but I think women in aviation should have the same privileges as women who write, and my husband doesn’t mind.”

The New York Times didn’t seem to originally be on board with the proposal. The day she wrote the letter the paper printed the headline “Harrison and Rye Hail Mrs. Putnam’s Return.” But soon after, they adopted the request.

By July, they returned to using Miss Earhart and eventually ventured into the honorific Ms. Earhart, which they continue to use today.