Rebecca Kamm

Poking a stick at ladies' issues, pop culture, and other cutting-edge curiosities.

Rebecca Kamm: Amelia Earhart's rules for marriage

Photo / Supplied
Photo / Supplied

If you're curious to know how a feminist icon from the early 1900s might approach marriage - and let's face it, who wouldn't be!? - this one's for you.

A prenuptial agreement written by Aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart to her man George Putnam has been doing the internet rounds since Slate blogger Amanda Hess put it up on her Tumblr last week. And it's amazingly modern, this 80-year-old document.

Earhart, the first female aviator to fly a solo transatlantic flight, is hesitant about marriage - "You must know again my reluctance to marry..." - in case it "shatters" her career opportunities. Her occupation is what "means most" to her, she writes, so "let us not interfere with the others' work or play".

(Sound familiar? Almost a full century later, the work/life conundrum shows no sign of abating.)

Earhart also sketches a picture of open marriage ("I shall not hold you to any midaeval [sic] code of faithfulness") and stipulates that should she or George develop feelings for someone else, they should talk it out: "If we can be honest I think the difficulties which arise may best be avoided."

She needs time on her own, too: "I may need to keep some place where I can go be myself, now and then..." And, in a refreshing nod to the vital importance of happiness in marriage: " will let me go in a year if we find no happiness together."

To give you some background against which to read Earhart's prenup, marriage for women in the US in the 1930s was pretty much domestic servitude. They may have gained the vote, but on a popular level ladies who worked outside the home were seen as "un-American money grubbers, stealing jobs from men who needed them to support their families."

Also, check out this amazing 1930s scoresheet explaining how to be a good spouse. Formulated by the Scientific Marriage Foundation, it assigns "Demerits" and "Merits" for good and bad spousal behaviours - you were a crap wife, for example, if you wore red nail polish or went to bed with too much face cream on.

Winning wives, on the other hand, had meals on time, were "jolly and gay", and always asked "husband's opinion regarding important decisions." Fail, Earhart. Sorry.

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