Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Purdue has close ties with Amelia Earhart legacy

Amelia Earhart and Purdue President Edward C. Elliott (Picture courtesy Purdue University)

Amelia Earhart and Purdue President Edward C. Elliott (Picture courtesy Purdue University)
Kevin Rader/Eyewitness News

West Lafayette - A whole new generation is about to be exposed to Amelia Earhart. The movie Amelia is scheduled to be in theaters this Friday. Her story is very familiar to Indiana because of her close ties to Purdue University.

Nearly three quarters of a century, 72 autumns to be exact, have passed over the Purdue campus since she was here. Purdue has close ties to the life and the legacy of the woman who died trying to become the first person to fly around the world.

"She wanted to see if she could do it," said Dr. Robin Jensen, communications professor.

"To me Amelia Earhart is like a comet that shot across the 1930s," said John Norberg, Purdue aviation author.

Amelia Earhart had already "arrived" by the time she arrived at Purdue University in 1935, at the invitation of then President Edward Elliott. She was plucked out of obscurity as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic with two male pilots in 1928. In 1935 she flew solo across the Atlantic, five years after Lindberg.

"She really loved Purdue. Loved the atmosphere. She loved that this was the first university to have an airport," said Norberg.

Her statue on the campus calls her an inspirer of dreams, mentor and aviator. Flying certainly attracted Earhart to Purdue but she also took her job to help woman prepare for careers very seriously. She handed out a survey and found 92% of the woman on campus wanted a career. Her job was to help their dreams take flight.

"The women on campus saw her and they all wanted to copy her. They wanted to be like Amelia," said Norberg.

Norberg says they went to the dean of women to ask if they could wear slacks and were told, "When you fly an airplane solo across the Atlantic, you may wear slacks on the Purdue University campus."

Much of her life at Purdue and beyond is captured in the world's largest Amelia Earhart collection donated to the University Archives by her husband George Palmer Putnam.

The Purdue Research Foundation actually funded the plane for the ill-fated mission around the world. It cost $80,000 but the hope was in the long run that she would be able to write a book about her successful exploits.

The fascination with Amelia Earhart has always been the mystery of how she died. At Purdue the focus is on how she lived.

"You have to find the adventure in life that seems to be interesting to you and you have to follow them no matter where they take you," said Dr. Jensen.

"We have women students here today who are living Amelia Earhart's dream. She started it here just about 75 years ago," said Norberg.

Seventy-two years ago, most of the women enrolled at Purdue could only dream of a career in aviation. Now that dream is a reality - and they are free to dress how they please and pursue whatever career they want.

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