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The Famous Impromptu Flight Amelia and Eleanor Took in Their Dinner Gowns

Stefan Andrews
Amelia and Eleanor
Amelia and Eleanor

In her brilliant, short-lived career as the first woman aviator that ended in a befuddling tragedy, Amelia Earhart nailed down many achievements, including breaking down a formal dinner at the White House in 1933.

The year before, Earhart grew to be the world’s first woman to fly over the Atlantic all by herself. She used a Lockheed Vega 5B type of aircraft for the mission, said to be her favorite.

Her route started in Newfoundland and ended on a greenfield close to Derry, Ireland.

Amelia Earhart standing under nose of her Lockheed Model 10-E Electra.

Amelia Earhart standing under nose of her Lockheed Model 10-E Electra.

The historic flight was completed within 14 hours and 56 minutes, and Earhart fought through forceful winds and mechanical issues to make it.

After landing in Ireland, a farmer asked Amelia, “Have you flown far?” Her witty reply went: “From America.” Her personal ambitions and thirst for adventure were, however, much more than that.

Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt in August 1932. Photo by FDR Presidential Library & Museum CC BY 2.0

Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt in August 1932. Photo by FDR Presidential Library & Museum CC BY 2.0

In that same glorious year for Amelia Earhart, 1932, she became friends with Eleanor Roosevelt, an equally passionate woman who also became a role model to women at the time, and who, like Earhart, was able to log extensive flying hours–not as a pilot, but due to her duties as the First Lady of the United States. Some people even liked to call Eleanor the First Lady of the World.

Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt

Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt

On April 20th, 1933, Earhart along with her spouse, George Putnam, were invited over for dinner at the White House. President Roosevelt was away for the occasion and Eleanor was accompanied at the dinner table by her brother, Hall Roosevelt.

According to The Baltimore Sun, other guests included the president of Eastern Air Transport, Thomas Wardwell Doe, as well as the head of the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Air Commerce, Eugene Luther Vidal and his spouse. It was to be one of the most unusual evenings.

Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mrs. Amelia Earhart Putnam, prominent aviatrix, went up for a night sky ride in Washington, D.C., on April 20th, and during the flight Mrs. Roosevelt took over the controls of the plane, breaking another precedent. This photo shows the group after the flight. Left to right: George Palmer Putnam, Mrs. Amelia Earhart Putnam, Mrs. Roosevelt, and Captain Doe, president of the Easter Air Transport.

Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Mrs. Amelia Earhart Putnam, prominent aviatrix, went up for a night sky ride in Washington, D.C., on April 20th, and during the flight Mrs. Roosevelt took over the controls of the plane, breaking another precedent. This photo shows the group after the flight. Left to right: George Palmer Putnam, Mrs. Amelia Earhart Putnam, Mrs. Roosevelt, and Captain Doe, president of the Easter Air Transport.

During the course of the dinner, spontaneously, Earhart suggested the First Lady that they take a flight to Baltimore and back. Remarkably, this is indeed what followed instead of another course on the White House food menu.

The group, still wearing their formal attire, reached the Hoover Field airport, which was closed in 1941 and later replaced with the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

On a short flight to and from Baltimore, aviator Amelia Earhart points out the White House to resident First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. | Location: Above Washington, DC, USA.

On a short flight to and from Baltimore, aviator Amelia Earhart points out the White House to resident First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. | Location: Above Washington, DC, USA.

Here, the White House party boarded a twin-engine aircraft which belonged to the Eastern Air Transport. According to protocol, two of the company pilots were supposed to operate the craft, however, someone else stole the show.

For the duration of the flight, Earhart must have looked charming and bold at the same time, sporting a white, silk-sewn evening dress while holding the controls of the cockpit. Mrs. Roosevelt, who herself had recently obtained a student pilot’s license, sat by Earhart’s side all along this unplanned flight.

Despite obtaining a license to fly, the First Lady never went on to be a real pilot like Earhart herself. One of the reasons was that President Franklin deemed her piloting too dangerous.

Eleanor Roosevelt walking Fala (1947)

Eleanor Roosevelt walking Fala (1947)

But during that flight with Earhart over Washington D.C., with the glimmering city lights below, the First Lady must have been exhilarated. “It does mark an epoch, doesn’t it when a girl in an evening dress and slippers can pilot a plane at night,” she had commented, according to the Baltimore Sun.

After the flight was through and everyone was back with two feet on the ground, the Secret Service is said to have accompanied the two women and other guests as they returned to the White House.

Amelia Earhart standing in front of the Lockheed Electra in which she disappeared in July 1937.

Amelia Earhart standing in front of the Lockheed Electra in which she disappeared in July 1937.

The evening casually resumed and finished with desert, waiting for them in some of the fancy porcelain collections in the White House.

Some four years after this animated evening in Washington, D.C., Amelia Earhart took on a new challenge, with which she aimed at becoming the first woman in the world to circumnavigate the globe by plane. She would be joined on this journey by Fred Noonan–her navigator. Unfortunately, the journey proved fatal.

Neta Snook and Amelia Earhart in front of Earhart’s Kinner Airster, c. 1921

Neta Snook and Amelia Earhart in front of Earhart’s Kinner Airster, c. 1921

Earhart’s starting point was Oakland, Ca. on May 20, 1937. Her route first moved to Miami, and from there across the different continents that spanned ahead–South America, Africa, and Asia. She would make a stop in New Guinea on June 29, 1937.

At this stop, she was past the 20,000 mile mark. Only 7,000 miles remained ahead to complete the circumnavigation. Three days later, Earhart and Noonan resumed their route from New Guinea but never managed to safely reach their next stop. Communication was cut and it is presumed they both died, however the exact manner remains a mystery. Earhart was aged 40 at the time.

Even though Earhart failed her plan to circumnavigate the world, she reached numerous other milestones in times when the role of a woman was very limited, with few opportunities for obtaining education or learning the skills needed for professions such as flying.

Read another story from us: Long disputed radio broadcasts from Amelia Earhart may have been genuine, research group says

Her friend–Eleanor Roosevelt, brought her energy on other, similar causes. She played an important role in crafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was a notable advocate for equality. She is often billed as the most influential First Lady to have ever walked the White House. She passed away in 1962, at the age of 78.