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Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt Once Abandoned a Formal Dinner For an Aerial Joyride

Rosemary Giles
Photo Credit: Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Universal History Archive / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

Any unsuspecting person in Washington looking up at the sky on the evening of April 20, 1933 might have seen a plane flying overhead, bound for Baltimore. What they couldn’t know, however, was that inside were two of the most well-known women of the time, pilot Amelia Earhart and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The pair, and some companions, had taken to the skies for a momentous joyride.

An invitation to the White House

Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt became fast friends after their first meeting in 1932. Already a well known figure for becoming the first female aviator to fly over the Atlantic Ocean in 1928, Earhart, and her husband George Putnam, were invited to a special dinner at the White House in 1933 not long after President Roosevelt was elected. He wasn’t there, but the pair were surrounded by many other guests.

Amelia Earhart pointing something out an airplane window to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who sits beside her.
On their joyride, Amelia Earhart points out the White House to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, April 1933. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)

This didn’t stop the women from talking about Earhart’s aerial adventures. Allegedly, Roosevelt was extremely curious about aviation, and asked the pilot what it was like to fly in the evenings – a dangerous thing to do at the time because airplanes weren’t equipped with the same computers and navigational equipment they have today. Earhart responded that it was like flying with the stars.

A special joyride

Sensing her intrigue, Earhart supposedly suggested that she and the first lady find themselves a plane and travel to and from Baltimore that very night. As it was a formal occasion, both women were decked out in elegant evening gowns and formal white gloves, so they threw on their fur coats and traveled with an entourage of family and reporters to the nearby Hoover Field Airport.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt sitting behind the wheel of a plane in flight.
Photograph from the joyride of Eleanor Roosevelt took over the controls of a plane for a few minutes, April 1933. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)

They commandeered an Eastern Air Transport plane, along with the two pilots who were scheduled to fly it. Their presence on the aircraft was really more of a formality as the legendary Earhart did most of the flying that evening. Not only that, but Roosevelt spent much of her time in the cabin taking in the sight. She joyously expressed during the flight: “It does mark an epoch, doesn’t it when a girl in an evening dress and slippers can pilot a plane at night.”

Becoming close friends

When they landed after their joyride, they marked the occasion with a photograph outside the plane before returning to the White House to eat the last of their dinner. In the coming years, Earhart and Roosevelt remained close, as they felt as though they were kindred spirits. The first lady even got a student flight permit, although sources differ on if this was before or after the Baltimore flight.

George Putnam, Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Captain Doe pose in front of a large plane.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart pose with George Palmer Putnam (left) and Captain Doe (right), after their joyride, April 1933. (Photo Credit: Bettmann/ Getty Images)

Roosevelt’s husband was adamant that she not learn to fly, but her friend had other ideas and promised that she’d show her the ropes. The pair got together on many other occasions, up until Earhart’s disappearance in 1937.

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President Roosevelt put a tremendous amount of time and money into looking for the lost pilot, but to no avail. The first lady once told reporters she was sure her friend’s last words were, “I have no regrets.”

Rosemary Giles

Rosemary Giles is a history content writer with Hive Media. She received both her bachelor of arts degree in history, and her master of arts degree in history from Western University. Her research focused on military, environmental, and Canadian history with a specific focus on the Second World War. As a student, she worked in a variety of research positions, including as an archivist. She also worked as a teaching assistant in the History Department.

Since completing her degrees, she has decided to take a step back from academia to focus her career on writing and sharing history in a more accessible way. With a passion for historical learning and historical education, her writing interests include social history, and war history, especially researching obscure facts about the Second World War. In her spare time, Rosemary enjoys spending time with her partner, her cats, and her horse, or sitting down to read a good book.