Category Archives: Women’s Archives

Detailing the collections and events involving Purdue women and/or the Purdue University Women’s Archives.

Kassandra Agee Chandler Broke Barriers as Purdue’s first African American Homecoming Queen

Kassandra “Katie” Agee Chandler was born to a blue-collar family from Gary, Indiana. She originally aspired to attend an out of state college following high school graduation. This plan was disrupted when she was contacted by Dr. Cornell Bell of Purdue University. Bell discovered Kassandra Agee during her senior year of high school and persisted in efforts to recruit her for the Business Opportunity Program (BOP) at Purdue, despite Kassandra’s initial desire to live out of state.

Business Opportunity Program pamphlets

Through the BOP, Dr. Bell brought bright and promising students to enroll in the Krannert Business School. The initiative was started after Bell observed that Krannert and other business schools were historically lacking in diversity, which contributed to an overall lack of diversity in the profession of business.

Business Opportunity Program group photo

After entering the program, students like Agee received mentorship, tutoring, and a sense of family and belonging at Purdue. Kassandra entered the program in the fall of 1977 and graduated in 1981 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from Purdue.

Kassandra Agee Chandler at Homecoming

As a sophomore in the fall of 1978, Agee was elected Purdue’s Homecoming Queen, the first and, to date, only African American Homecoming Queen in Purdue’s history. As a representative of Meredith Residence Halls, she competed against 23 other competitors to win her title.

Newspaper clippings

When reflecting later upon the nomination and campaign experience, Kassandra remembered being told, “They’ll never let you win this.” But she drew upon the strength of her faith, family, friends, and dorm-mates, as well as her own tenacity.

She worked tirelessly on her campaign, going door-to-door, speaking with groups across campus, and hanging campaign posters.

Homecoming campaign materials

She remembered, “I didn’t let it get to me. I never let anyone talk me down…. In the end, I was able to make my family and sisterhood proud…I felt like Cinderella…it was all a collective effort of sisterhood, of campus-hood, of brotherhood.”

Congratulations notes

After winning, Agee received local and national press, as well as campus and community wide support. Along with the many press releases, newspaper clippings, and congratulatory notes, she was invited to appear in the Rose Bowl Parade alongside the Homecoming Queens from the other Big 10 Universities. As she later said, “I’m a blue collar daughter but I was queen on the campus of Purdue. In sharing my story of what is possible during the most improbable and seemingly impossible time, I hope [to] inspire.”

Rose Bowl materials

In addition to her role as Homecoming Queen and a leader for African American students on campus, Agee was also active in extracurricular activities. She was a member of Alpha Lambda Delta freshman honor society, Purdue Pals, and the Black Voices of Inspiration Choir. Agee was also a president and founding member of Purdue’s Society of Minority Managers. She served as a social counselor for the Business Opportunity Program and was a member of the Mortar Board senior honors society.

Mortar Board

Her involvement in student activities reflected her leadership role on campus, as well as her excellent academic record.

After graduating from the Krannert School of Management, Agee held positions at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Exxon, Dow Chemical and Procter & Gamble.

Agee Chandler speaking at podium

In the years since her graduation, she has frequently returned to campus to give presentations on topics ranging from her work in the business world to her experiences as homecoming queen. After years of professional experience working for industry leaders in both the public and private sector, she founded Systematic Design Consultants, where she is the principal consultant. The company is an information technology consulting firm located in Texas.

Cornell Bell letter

Agee is also a founding member of the Business Opportunity Program Alumni Network, which seeks to further the legacy of Dr. Cornell Bell and ensure the continued success of the BOP. The Network engages in fundraising, advising, and seeks to provide a support network for BOP alumni by keeping them connected while providing opportunities that will ensure their continued success in the professional business world.

Kassandra Agee Chandler returns to her alma mater this year to serve as grand marshal of the Boilermaker Night Train Homecoming Parade on September 21. This homecoming is particularly special, as Purdue officially launches the start of its sesquicentennial celebrations from fall 2018 through fall 2019.

The Black Cultural Center is offering a display of historical photographs and related items on Kassandra Agee Chandler, on the 2nd floor near the library, through the end of October. We hope you will join us in celebrating Kassandra’s rich life and legacy — at Purdue, and beyond.

Sources:

MSA 363, Kassandra Agee Chandler papers, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries, West Lafayette, Indiana

Chandler, Kassandra Agee. “My Pieces of History: A Queen’s Journey to Archival Peace (and Release).” 6 February, 2018, Krannert Auditorium, West Lafayette, Indiana.

Written by Virginia Pleasant. All images from the Kassandra Agee Chandler papers.

Celebrating Black History Month: Firsts by Purdue African-American Students & Alumni

Items from the Purdue University African American Students, Alumni and Faculty collection

Black History Month is a great time to take a look back in Purdue’s history and honor our African American pioneers, the people who broke new ground and paved the way for others. Actually, any time is the right time to honor people who have succeeded, but particularly those who faced obstacles outside the norm of typical student life.

If one flips through the Debris yearbook from the earliest years in Purdue’s history, it becomes clear from the atmosphere that is portrayed, the cartoons that are illustrated, and the words that are used that students were not always kind or inclusive towards one another. Although all students struggle from time to time, it is important to remember that people of color, or any people who differed from the majority, faced additional struggles inside and outside the classroom, and their voices are not always included in these historical accounts of student life. We believe this creates even more cause to celebrate, as a means of honoring those individuals who succeeded despite the odds.

According to historical accounts in the Archives, in 1944 there were twelve African American students at Purdue (Cornelius 10), and records show 145 black students in 1965.  Thirty years later, during the 1994-1995 school year, there were 1,175. In 2015, the number was only a bit higher, at 1,183.

Below are some of the Purdue “firsts” among the African American student population:

1890, Purdue’s First Black Graduate

George W. Lacey is noted as having graduated from Purdue in Pharmacy. He is not found in the Debris yearbook, but he is mentioned elsewhere as having been Purdue’s first black graduate. His name is found in the 1890 Druggists’ Circular and Chemical Gazette with the listing of those who graduated from the Purdue School of Pharmacy that year. Fred Whitford, author of The Grand Old Man of Purdue University and Indiana Agriculture: A Biography of William Carroll Latta, also makes mention of Lacey as being the first black Purdue graduate (Whitford 37).

 

Or was it David Robert Lewis?

David Robert Lewis has also been noted in Purdue’s historical accounts as the University’s first black graduate. He was from Greensburg, Indiana, and he earned a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering in 1894. His senior thesis was titled “Highway Road Construction.”

 

 

Click to learn more about Lewis.

One problem in identifying the first African American graduate of Purdue, is that although Purdue began offering courses in 1874, the first records that include images of students are in the Debris yearbook, which did not exist until 1889. Therefore, the possibility exists that neither Lacey nor Lewis were the first African American graduate from Purdue– it is possible that a student who graduated prior to invention of the yearbook may have been African American, but thus far there is no record in the University Archives that confirms this. Official university records did not include race or ethnicity prior to 1974.

Other Early African American Graduates

Richard Wirt Smith graduated from the School of Pharmacy in 1904.

1904  Debris

 

 

 

 

 

Smith in a Purdue Pharmacy Lab in 1904.

Indianapolis Recorder, February 4, 1939

1904 Debris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Per Mr. Smith’s obituary in the Indianapolis Recorder, February 4, 1939, he died a successful druggist, at the young age of 54.

1905,  John Henry Weaver, Pharmacy

As noted in John Henry Weaver’s Debris entry, he was also a member of the track team for 4 years. Sadly, as mentioned in Alexandra Cornelius’ research, “Purdue teams, like other national sports teams, became segregated in the 1910s and 1920s. They remained segregated until 1947, when black attorney Willard Ransom, a Purdue alumnus, challenged the University, and a student protest led to a black football player being put into the game.” Cornelius found other evidence that life must have been difficult for black students in the early years of the 20th century. Her research has provided valuable evidence of early African American life at Purdue and is used frequently in the Archives.

 

1905, Samuel Saul Dargan graduated from Purdue with a Bachelor of Science Degree in 1905. He went on to become the first black man to earn a Law Degree from Indiana University (1909). He was curator of the IU Law Library for 39 years and assisted many law school students during that time.

1905 Debris

 

 

 

More about Dargan

 

 

1913, David Nelson Crosthwait Jr., Mechanical Engineering

1913 Debris

David Crosthwait became a pioneer in the field of heating, ventilating and air-conditioning, and is known for finding a way to heat Radio City Music Hall.

More about Crosthwait

 

 

 

 

Who was the first black woman to attend Purdue?  As one turns the pages of the earliest Purdue Debris yearbooks, very few females look up from the pages. Even fewer black females are present. Per Caitlyn Marie Stypa, in her 2013 master’s thesis, Purdue Girls: The Female Experience at a Land-Grant University, 1887-1913: “While university publications make it difficult to determine who the first black woman was to enroll in or graduate from Purdue University, it is quite certain that she was not a student until after 1913.”  Stypa goes on to write that “as late as 1911, black women made up just one-third of one percent of female college and university students. Common reasons for the low enrollment rate included lack of funds or outright discrimination” (Stypa 5).

As mentioned earlier, the fact that prior to 1974, a student’s permanent record did not include any racial or ethnic identification makes efforts to locate the first African American students a difficult task.

1910, First African American Women

One of the first black females to be found in the Debris yearbook appears in the middle of this photograph of the 1910 Junior Pharmacy Class. If one looks for her in the following years, she does not appear. Not every student had their photograph taken for the Debris, which makes it difficult to rely upon as a source for verifying the first African American students at Purdue; however, as one of the few early historical records containing images, the Debris yearbook is often our best available source for finding clues about Purdue’s early African American students. Because this woman could not be identified in later issues of the yearbook, it is possible that she was a student who did not finish her degree at Purdue.

1910,   Junior Pharmacy Class

1913, Summer School for Teachers

In this photograph from the 1913 Debris, one finds another black woman. Her name is not noted, but she participated in Purdue’s Summer School for Teachers, which included Indiana high school and college students from around the state. It is unknown whether she was a full-time student enrolled in courses (outside of the Summer School for Teachers) at Purdue. 

1910, Summer School for Teachers

1927, Inez Mason

In 1927, Inez Mason was the first cited member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, an early Greek organization established for African-American college women.  She received a Bachelor of Science degree the same year. Her membership in the sorority is noted under her photo in the 1927 Debris.

Inez Mason, 1927 Debris

 

 

 

 

 

 

1931, Thelma F. McDonald

McDonald, 1931 Debris

 

No further information has been located in the Archives about Thelma McDonald.

 

 

1932, Silance Sisters

Sisters Delia and Ella Belle Silance of Lafayette appear to be two of the first black female graduates of Purdue. Both graduated with distinction and are shown below in the 1932 Debris.

Silance Sisters, 1932 Debris

“…Male black students could only live in West Lafayette in International House on University Avenue. However, black female students were denied the right and had to live across the river. ‘Practice House’ was a requirement in order to earn a degree in Home Economics. It was a program of 6 weeks duration, during which time home making duties were rotated among the girls each week. During those weeks two girls roomed together in the house. However, I was assigned to a group of five which included a very well liked black student. Those making the room pairings were planning to assign her to her own room, thinking incorrectly that no one would want to room with her. But she did have a room mate and one of the white girls roomed alone. Therefore, all of the assignments had to be rescheduled to accommodate a class of five. Thankfully, those restrictions were lifted long ago.” (Source: The Way It Was at Purdue 1941-1945, by Esther Conelley Boonstra, HE ’45).

Read more of Connelly Boonstra’s firsthand account of Purdue in the early 1940s

1942 – International House established

The first members of International House, 1942

International House became the home for Purdue black male and international students, appearing in the Debris in 1942.

 

1949 Debris

 

 

This page from the 1949 Debris describes International House. Click on the photo for a full view of the page.

 

 

Jean Douglas, 1945 Debris

 

 

1945

If one searches the Debris for the Home Economics graduates for 1945, the lone black face that looks up from the pages is Jean Douglas.  She is most likely the student mentioned in Esther Conelley’s account above.

 

 1940s-50s, Purdue Athletics

As mentioned previously, Purdue athletic teams remained segregated until at least 1947. The pages of the Debris yearbook rarely mention black student athletes before 1950. According to Athletics sources, the first African American students to join the Purdue football team were Herman Murray and Lively Bryant, both in 1949. The Purdue student newspaper reported that Herman Murray played in practice games of the “B Team” against the freshmen as early as November 1948 (Exponent, November 13, 1948). Murray became the first African American Boilermaker to play in an official football game when Purdue played Northwestern at Ross Ade Stadium on November 11, 1950. The 1950 Debris yearbook shows Herman Murray in the team photograph for the Football “B” team. Murray, a tackle, received his varsity letter in 1951.

1950 Debris

 

1955

Lundy, 1955 Debris

In 1955, Lamar Lundy was a center for the Purdue basketball team.

Many other exceptional black athletes would one day follow in their footsteps.

 

 

 

 

Other Firsts

Cooper-Shockley

1955, first African American Woman to Earn Ph.D.

In 1955 Dr. Delores Cooper Shockley became the first African-American woman to earn a Ph.D. from Purdue and in the United States.   Read more about her

 

 

1968, first African American Faculty Member

Bass Williams

It was not until 1968, when Helen Bass Williams was hired, that Purdue had a member of the faculty who was African American. Williams was a key figure in the Civil Rights Movement before coming to Purdue. She was hired as an instructor in French and a counselor in the School of Humanities, Social Science, and Education.

More about Helen Bass Williams

1975, The National Society of Black Engineers

The National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) began as the Society of Black Engineers (SBE) and was founded at Purdue University in the 1970s. Because of this, Purdue is also known as the mother chapter of NSBE. The National Society of Black Engineers came into being as a result of a conference planned and hosted by SBE at Purdue in April 1975.

1975 Debris

Per the Purdue University Minority Engineering web page:

“In the early 1970s, only 20 percent of minority engineers stayed in the engineering program after their first year. With this low retention rate, there was a large disparity in the student population. John Logan, Edward Coleman, George Smith, Stanley Kirtley, Brian Harris, and Anthony Harris became known as the Chicago Six, as they took action to help their fellow students. In 1975, they founded the Black Society of Engineers (BSE) with the help of their advisor Arthur Bond at Purdue. Anthony Harris proposed changing the name to Society of Black Engineers (SBE) in 1976 and he began reaching out to engineering programs and advisors throughout the nation, proposing a national organization and collaboration. In 1976, the first national conference was held at Purdue University and included participation from 32 schools and 48 students from all parts of the country.”  More Information

1975 Debris

Anthony Harris, one of the society’s founding members, was named chairman of the national advisory board for the society in 2007. He is president and CEO of Campbell/Harris Security Equipment Company, a manufacturer of equipment that detects contraband, explosives and “dirty bombs.” Its primary customers include the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue in 1975 and an MBA from the Harvard Graduate School of Business in 1979. He was named a Purdue Outstanding Mechanical Engineer in 1999.

 

1978, Kassandra Agee – Purdue’s First Black Homecoming Queen

1979 Debris

In 1978, as a sophomore, Kassandra Agee was elected as Purdue’s first African American Homecoming Queen, following an extensive and energetic campaign. Kassandra “Katie” Agee (now Chandler) took part in many activities on campus.  She was a member of Alpha Lambda Delta freshman honors society, Purdue Pals, the Black Voices of Inspiration Choir, and the Society of Minority Managers. In addition, Agee also served as a social counselor for the Business Opportunity Program in the School of Management and was a member of the Mortar Board senior honors society at the time of her graduation. Following graduation, she was successfully employed at a variety of businesses, including the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, Exxon, Dow Chemical, and Procter & Gamble, as well as running her own information technology business.

1990, Robert J. Taylor (M.E. ’60), Purdue’s first black trustee

“Taylor named Purdue trustee”   Taylor served as a member of Purdue’s board of trustees until 1996.

1990, Tarrus Richardson was elected as Purdue Student Body President

1991 Debris

In 1990, Tarrus Richardson became the first black Purdue Student Body President, with 70% of the vote. Richardson was very active on campus.  He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from Purdue in 1991and a MBA from Harvard Business School in 1996. He later became CEO of IMB Development Corporation.

 

There are so many more diverse individuals in Purdue history who could be featured, and the Archives looks forward to continuing to preserve the histories of these individuals and share them with you. It is an honor to highlight the lives of Purdue pioneers who faced tremendous obstacles and persevered, forging the way for future generations of Boilermakers.

As part of Black History Month, and beyond, we aim to celebrate all individuals who helped make Purdue University the outstanding institution of higher learning it is today. To learn more about early African American life at Purdue, please contact us to view the references cited below, as well as related collections on the topic, in the Archives.

Blog post by Mary A. Sego (’82), Processing Assistant, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections. Post updated 7/29/19 with additional source information about Herman Murray, by Sammie Morris.

References:

Cornelius, Alexandra, “Evolution of the Black Presence at Purdue University,” (1994, July 5) Purdue University African American Students, Alumni and Faculty collection, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections (Box 1, Folder 10), Purdue University Libraries, West Lafayette, IN.

Whitford, F., & Martin, A. (2005). The grand old man of Purdue University and Indiana agriculture : A biography of William Carroll Latta. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press.

Stypa, Caitly Marie (2013). Purdue Girls: The Female Experience at a Land-Grant University, 1887-1913, Unpublished master’s thesis, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.

Boonstra, Esther Conelley (1945). The Way it was at Purdue 1941-1945, Esther Conelly Boonstra collection, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, (Communal Collections 3, Placement 20), Purdue University Libraries, West Lafayette, IN.

Debris Yearbook, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN.  earchives.lib.purdue.edu, 18 February, 2018.

Related collections:

The records of the Black Cultural Center (BCC) are a treasure trove of source material on African American student life at Purdue, dating from circa 1969 to present. In partnership with the BCC Library, the Archives makes these records available for research and study.

The 2009 film Black Purdue, created by Jamar White, Derek Fordjour, Keith David, and the Purdue Black Alumni Organization provides excellent primary source material. The film includes interviews with many of the students and faculty involved in the early days of the founding of the Black Cultural Center. This film is available through both the Archives and through the media collection of the Black Cultural Center.

 

Remembering Amelia Earhart’s Round-the-World Flight: The 80th Anniversary of Her “Shining Adventure” (Part 2 of 2)

Amelia Earhart kept notes from the different legs of her flight, and those notes are part of her papers in the Archives and Special Collections at Purdue. Some pages of her notes exhibit oil stains or other indications that she made them while in flight. The New York Herald Tribune had exclusive rights to her story, and Earhart remained in contact with the paper throughout her flight, sending telegrams from the various locations where she stopped to refuel.

MSP 9, The George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers, Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries

 

 

To read the entire telegram, please click on image.

 

 

 

 

Purdue Exponent, March 16, 1937

Purdue Exponent, March 17, 1937, p.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

The New York Herald Tribune shared Earhart’s account of the flight with the Purdue Exponent.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Mantz, Amelia Earhart, Harry Manning, and Fred Noonan being photographed in front of Earhart’s plane, Oakland Airport, California, March 17, 1937. MSP 9.

Paul Mantz, Amelia Earhart, Harry Manning, and Fred Noonan standing in front of the nose of Earhart’s plane, Oakland Airport [?], California,  March 17, 1937. MSP 9.

The takeoff of Earhart’s Lockheed Electra plane from the Oakland Airport in California, March 17, 1937. This was the last test-hop of the flight before heading out over the Pacific. MSP 9.

 


The long anticipated flight had begun, and the Purdue Exponent shared the excitement with the Purdue community.

Purdue Exponent, March 18, 1937.

 

 

 

 

 

All three clips are from one front page Purdue Exponent article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


With 900 gallons of gasoline on board, Earhart finally takes off from Luke Field for Howland Island. Earhart’s first attempt resulted in disaster and a damaged plane.

Purdue Alumnus, March 1937, Vol. XXIV, No. 6, p. 3

Paul Mantz, members of the United States Army Air Corp, and others observing the wrecked Lockheed Electra plane after Earhart crashed while attempting to take off from Luke Field, Hawaii to Howland Island, March 20, 1937. MSP 9.

People watch as mechanics work on repairing the wrecked Lockheed Electra plane after Earhart crashed while attempting to take off from Luke Field, Hawaii to Howland Island, March 20, 1937. MSP 9.

The following are accounts from Last Flight, which was compiled from Earhart’s logs and journal writings by George Palmer Putnam after her death. It was to be titled World Flight.

“There was not the slightest indication of anything abnormal. Ten seconds later the airplane which brought us so gallantly to Honolulu lay helpless on the concrete runway, a poor battered bird with broken wings.”

“As for the crew, only our spirits were bruised when this sudden disaster overtook us. By good fortune, Harry Manning, Fred Noonan and I emerged without a scratch. But the plane, her landing gear wiped off and one wing damaged, was a sad sight to see. At that, the comparatively slight damage was a fine testimonial to the sturdiness of Lockheed construction – such an accident might well result in a total wash-out.”

“Witnesses said the tire blew. However, studying the tracks carefully, I believe that may not have been the primary cause of the accident. Possibly the landing gear’s right shock absorber, as it lengthened, may have given way.” “Watchers on the ground saw the wing drop. Suddenly the plane pulled to my right. I reduced the power on the opposite engine and succeeded in swinging from the right to the left. For a moment I thought I would be able to gain control and straighten the course. But, alas, the load was so heavy, once it started an arc there was nothing to do but let the plane ground loop as easily as possible.”

“With the excessive weight, the landing gear on the right was wrenched free and gasoline sprayed from the drain-well. That there was no fire was surely the result of the generous good wishes which had come from all over the world. No one of the three of us on board was even shaken, a testimony to the safety of a modern metal plane such as mine.”

“In retrospect, I am thankful that the failure occurred where it did rather than in some isolated corner of the world far from help.”  “And I must say a good word for Fred Noonan and Harry Manning. They were both as game as could be. In fact, when the first when reached the plane and opened the cabin door, they found Fred Methodically folding up his charts. He said that when I flew again he was ready to go along” (Last Flight, 70-72).

From March – May, 1937 the Lockheed Electra was back in California being repaired.

Again, in Earhart’s words:

“Like broken bones which Nature knits slowly in her own special process, the injured parts of an airplane must be painstakingly restored.” There is no short cut to full usefulness in either case if perfect healing is desired. In addition to “healing,” a strengthening of certain members to withstand the excessive strain to which overloading subjects them was in order in my Electra. This meant some actual redesigning, another process which could not be hurried. As to the precious engines, they were already in the Pacific Airmotive shops at Burbank being thoroughly checked. After the plane and engines were together, some time would have to be allowed for testing.”

With the rebuilding of the plane in hand, our next task was to appraise the effect of delay upon our flying plans. We had picked mid-March as about the best time for the flight from standpoint of weather – so far as one could expect consistent “bests” on such a long route. Setting back the date three month would see seasons relentlessly progress. In some places progress would be with benefit to pilots, in others the reverse. Here rains began, there they abated, here winds were favorable, there monsoons and choking dust storms were due. So we set to studying again the weather maps of the world and consulting with meteorologists who knew the habits of fogs and rains with temperatures around the long equator.”

“The upshot of those consultations was that I decided to reverse the direction originally chosen for the flight. Earlier it had seemed that the advantage lay in passage to the west; at the later date the contrary appeared true. After all, for practical purposes and disregarding Mr. Einstein, the world measures the same distance from west to east, as east to west, on any given route”  (Last Flight, 75-76).

Stay tuned, as we relive Amelia Earhart’s Round-the-World Flight, in celebration of the 80th anniversary…

Sources:

Earhart, Amelia, and George Palmer Putnam. Last Flight. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1937. Print.

MSF 450, Amelia Earhart at Purdue Collection, Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries

MSP 9, The George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers, Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries

Vertical Files, Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries

Purdue Student Publishing Foundation, and Purdue University. The Purdue Exponent (1889). Print.

Editor’s Note: Writer Mary A. Sego is an archival assistant and processing specialist within Archives and Special Collections.

Remembering Amelia Earhart’s Round-the-World Flight: The 80th Anniversary of Her “Shining Adventure” (Part 1 of 2)

Eighty years ago Amelia Earhart attempted to become the first person to fly around the world at the longest distance, along the equator. She disappeared during this flight, and the mystery of what happened to Earhart, her navigator Fred Noonan, and her Lockheed Electra airplane continues to fascinate and intrigue us. During that fateful summer of 1937, the Purdue Exponent student newspaper, with the co-operation of the New York Herald Tribune, kept readers updated on Earhart’s flight progress. In this post, we will relive her amazing 27,000-mile journey by sharing features from the Exponent, a first-hand account from one of Earhart’s friends, and handwritten notes that Earhart took to summarize each leg of her flight, which she subsequently shared with the news media and planned to compile into a book.

Letter to Amelia Earhart from President Elliott, thanking her for accepting the position at Purdue in the fall, dated June 4, 1935. MSP 9.

Amelia Earhart and Purdue’s paths first crossed in September 1934 when she addressed the fourth annual “Women and the Changing World” Conference sponsored by the New York Herald Tribune. Purdue President Edward Elliott was at the same conference to speak on “New Frontiers for Youth.” He stayed to listen to Earhart speak on aviation’s future and the role of women in its advancement. Elliott, intrigued by her speech, arranged to meet her and her husband, George Palmer Putnam. Elliott and Putnam hit it off. After they dined at the Coffee House Club in New York, Elliott got right to the point, letting Earhart know that he wanted her to work at Purdue, where she would be in a role to inspire Purdue’s approximately 800 women students to seize new opportunities in America’s changing society.

 

MSP 188, Collection of Amelia Earhart Related Materials, Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries

 

Elliott and Earhart sat down and worked out the details. Due to Earhart’s busy schedule, she could not be a full-time faculty member, but she would attempt to spend at least one month at the university during the school year as a careers consultant for women students. Purdue in turn would pay her a $2,000 salary (Boomhower, 38). Along with guiding women students toward new careers, she also served as a technical adviser in aeronautics to Purdue, which was, at that time, the only university in the country equipped with its own airport. The connection between Amelia Earhart and Purdue University had begun. It would later expand in ways they could not have imagined.

Vertical Files, Amelia Earhart.

Although she spent only a short amount of time at Purdue, Earhart’s ties to Purdue played a key role in securing the money and equipment necessary for attempting her round-the-world flight. On April 19, 1936 the university announced the establishment of the Amelia Earhart Fund for Aeronautical Research. With contributions totaling approximately $50,000 from J.K. Lilly, Sr. and David Ross, and later donations of cash and equipment from companies such as Bendix, Western Electric, Goodrich, and Goodyear, Earhart purchased her “flying laboratory,” a twin-motored Lockheed Electra 10E airplane that would allow her to attempt her greatest long-distance flight yet, to circumnavigate the globe.

 

Letter from Amelia Earhart to Edward Elliott acknowledging receipt of letters concerning her leave of absence from her position as Consultant in Careers for Women, and the use of the Purdue University Airport in connection with her flight, May 8, 1936. MSF 450.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Purdue Research Foundation established the “Amelia Earhart Fund for Aeronautical Research” and Earhart purchased a new “flying laboratory,” April 21, 1936.

Purdue Exponent, April 21, 1936

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Financial statement in regard to Lockheed and flight expenses, provided by George Palmer Putnam to President Elliott, September 26, 1936. MSF 450.

The plane was constructed at the Lockheed factory in Burbank, California, and included special features, such as extra gas tanks for long-distance flights, automatic pilot, deicing equipment, a radio homing device, and a two-way radio.

Close-up view of Amelia Earhart standing in the cockpit and looking over plans prior to finished construction on her Lockheed Electra plane, Burbank, California. MSP 9.

Vertical Files, Amelia Earhart.

Amelia Earhart sitting atop her Lockheed Electra plane with group of Purdue students, September 20, 1936. MSF 450.

Preparing for the world flight was a huge undertaking. During preparations, Earhart was asked numerous times why she decided to attempt this flight. Her answer was always “because I want to.” She called the trip a “shining adventure, beckoning with new experiences, adding knowledge of flying, of peoples, of myself” (Boomhower 41).  She also noted that with the flight behind her, she would become more useful to herself and to the aeronautical program at Purdue (Earhart, Last Flight 55). She called the Electra her “flying laboratory” because her intent was to use the plane to conduct research on the effects of long-distance flying on pilots . Once the flight was accomplished, the plane would be returned to Purdue where it would be used to further pure and applied scientific research in aeronautics. Royalties from the book Earhart planned to write about her flight would also support this research.

Bo McNeeley, Earhart’s mechanic, Amelia Earhart, and Captain L.I. Aretz inspecting the Lockheed Electra plane at the Purdue University Airport, circa 1936. MSF 450.

Earhart was to attempt her world flight twice. Originally, her flight team included Fred Noonan and Harry Manning. The original plans were for Noonan to navigate from Hawaii to Howland Island, a particularly difficult portion of the flight; then Harry Manning would continue with Earhart to Australia and she would proceed on her own for the remainder of the project.

As Earhart prepared for her world flight, anticipation continued to grow both on campus and in the minds of the public. Americans wanted to keep up to date on the progress of Earhart’s latest adventure. Purdue students claimed her as one of their own, and waited anxiously to hear of her progress.

Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan with map of the Pacific showing the route for their world flight, circa 1937. MSP 9.

Earhart is ready for flight, March 11, 1937.

Purdue Exponent, March 11, 1937, p. 1, c. 2-3

Earhart is ready for flight, March 11, 1937. MSP 9.

                                            

 To be continued…                            

Sources:

Boomhower, R. “Amelia Earhart at Purdue: The aviatrix and the university.” Traces, Summer (1994): 36-41.

Earhart, Amelia, and George Palmer Putnam. Last Flight. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1937. Print.

MSF 450, Amelia Earhart at Purdue Collection, Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries.

MSP 188, Collection of Amelia Earhart Related Materials, Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries.

MSP 9, The George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart Papers, Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries.

Vertical Files, Karnes Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries.

Purdue Student Publishing Foundation, and Purdue University. The Purdue Exponent (1889). Print.

Editor’s Note: Writer Mary A. Sego is an archival assistant and processing specialist within Archives and Special Collections.

The Women’s Health Movement Comes to Purdue: Discovering the Sisters for Health Education Records

In 1979, at the height of the Women’s Movement, three women at Purdue University formed the Sisters for Health Education (S.H.E.), a student organization founded on the principle that “every woman has the right to understand and control her own body” (“History of S.H.E.,” Box 1, Folder 1). For the next few years, they set out to single-handedly educate themselves, and the women of Purdue, about their bodies in an effort to put back into the hands of women the knowledge to care for themselves, their children, and their communities.

In 1981, Purdue had no gynecologist on staff and lacked express resources for its women students in the areas of birth control, unwanted pregnancy, and sexual assault. In a letter to Ms. Dunkle, Director of the Health Equity Project, dated June 18, 1981, S.H.E. founding member Marcia Whisman relates several stories of women who came to S.H.E. in search of support and information after bad experiences with the sole nurse on staff at the student health center who handled “sexual matters”:

She should have her certification to practice taken away from her….[she] is opposed to abortion, doesn’t seem to have a very good attitude about sexuality in general, doesn’t like to deal with sexual matters, and is very inept with examinations to the point of hurting a friend of mine when she was examining her.

Another student was referred to the staff nurse for vaginal infections and was told to “quit fooling around” though she was not sexually active. Yet another requested a pregnancy test but never heard back from the staff nurse regarding the results. When she finally called, the nurse scolded her: “I have known for several days that you were not pregnant, but I thought I would let you worry—have you learned your lesson?”

In relating these stories, Whisman reveals the difficulties that women students faced in attempting to access unbiased healthcare in order to make informed decisions about their bodies – decisions that would also impact their education. Letters and articles describe the pushback encountered by Purdue staff who had previously advocated for a women’s center (one was short-lived, but the campus currently lacks one). Knowing this, S.H.E. proceeded with caution when petitioning the university for funds as a student organization, choosing their words carefully to “sanitize” their mission to counsel women on matters of birth control and abortion.

An early flyer distributed by the Sisters for Health Education invites Purdue students to a feminist consciousness raising meeting focused on women’s health (Sisters for Health Education Records [S.H.E.], MSP 150, Box 1, Folder 1).

An early flyer distributed by the Sisters for Health Education invites Purdue students to a feminist consciousness raising meeting focused on women’s health (Sisters for Health Education Records [S.H.E.], MSP 150, Box 1, Folder 1).

“KNOWLEDGE IS POWER”

Despite institutional resistance, S.H.E. was operational by 1980; eventually they acquired a space in the Wesley Foundation and opened their “clinic” on March 2, 1981. They were soon busy hosting educational workshops, advising women over their hotline, and disseminating calls to action to protect women’s reproductive rights at the national level.

A collection of pamphlets addresses puberty, sexism, and teen pregnancy, and advises parents how to talk to their children about sex (Sisters for Health Education [S.H.E.] records, MSP 150, Box 3, Folder 11).

A collection of pamphlets addresses puberty, sexism, and teen pregnancy, and advises parents how to talk to their children about sex (Sisters for Health Education [S.H.E.] records, MSP 150, Box 3, Folder 11).

Fed up with the ways that sexism and racism shaped interactions between medical professionals – almost exclusively men at that time – and their patients, the Women’s Health Movement aimed to put medical knowledge directly into the hands of women. S.H.E. correspondence captures a national dialogue among feminists working to put knowledge directly into the hands of diverse women and questioning the epistemological assumptions inherent in healthcare practices of the time (see Wendy Kline’s “’Please Include This in Your Book’: Readers Respond to Our Bodies, Ourselves, Bulletin of the History of Medicine, Spring 2005).

 A cartoon in a copy of Lesbian Health Issues brings a queer perspective, and some humor, to the Women’s Health Movement (Sisters for Health Education [S.H.E.] records, MSP 150, Box 2, Folder 32).

A cartoon in a copy of Lesbian Health Issues brings a queer perspective, and some humor, to the Women’s Health Movement (Sisters for Health Education [S.H.E.] records, MSP 150, Box 2, Folder 32).

Inspired by the movement’s motto, “Knowledge is power,” S.H.E. researched not only debates surrounding the Pill’s safety, but also mental health, fat-shaming, lesbian women’s sexuality, the beauty industry, and food additives and natural remedies for common ailments like menstrual discomfort and bladder infections. They corresponded with feminist organizations and women’s health clinics in solidarity around the country and ordered speculums directly from medical supply companies to distribute at workshops where they taught women how to view their own cervices.

In addition, they brought together local resources for victims of rape and sexual assault, including a brochure (shown below) from the Indianapolis Police Department advising women to “Trim bushes and shrubbery” around their homes “so no one can hide in them” (Box 2, Folder 22), advice that now seems comically outdated.

A booklet doles out advice to women on how to protect themselves from rape contemporary anti-violence activists and educators would now characterize as victim-blaming (Box 1, Folder 7).

Brochures, Sisters for Health Education (S.H.E.) records, MSP 150, Box 1, Folder 7.

A booklet doles out advice to women on how to protect themselves from rape; contemporary anti-violence activists and educators would now characterize this as victim-blaming (Sisters for Health Education [S.H.E.] records, MSP 150, Box 1, Folder 7).

A booklet (front and back) doles out advice to women on how to protect themselves from rape; contemporary anti-violence activists and educators would now characterize this as victim-blaming (Sisters for Health Education [S.H.E.] records, MSP 150, Box 1, Folder 7).

S.H.E. members compiled and circulated lengthy lists of recommended reading that covered topics ranging from feminist theory to a history of midwives. Oft-referenced throughout is the Women’s Health Movement bible, Our Bodies, Ourselves, a self-help guide to women’s health first published by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective in 1970. Updated and reissued every four to six years and now available in more than thirty languages, the text remains the gold standard for many feminists and health educators today.

Brochures collected from women’s reproductive rights organizations offer information about U.S. eugenics programs targeting women of color under the guise of eliminating poverty (Box 2, Folder 34).

Brochures collected from various women’s reproductive rights organizations offer information about U.S. eugenics-like programs targeting women of color under the guise of eliminating poverty (Sisters for Health Education [S.H.E.] records, MSP 150, Box 2, Folder 34).

What unfolds in this collection is nothing short of a dynamic portrait of a nation’s healthcare practice under radical reform. Grassroots feminist health activists raised crucial questions about medical epistemology and literally rewrote how women understood and cared for their own health and for each other. This history, told through the correspondence and clippings of a small but dedicated group of Purdue feminists, continues to impact our healthcare today. Though the revolution may be incomplete, we see echoes of it in contemporary debates for reproductive justice and in renewed activism around home birth and midwifery, for example, the Big Push for Midwives campaign and Ricki Lake’s hit documentary The Business of Being Born.

THE GROWING BACKLASH

If the collection reveals the progress made by grassroots women activists, it also foreshadows a growing conservative backlash that would carry through the 1980s. S.H.E. members actively  advocated for women’s right to access safe and legal abortion and protested the Human Life Amendment, wrote to prominent politicians at the state and national level, a precursor to today’s fetal personhood amendments. Though member’s letters are not included in the collection, the responses they received are, including letters from prominent politicians such as Richard Lugar and Dan Quayle. Newsletters penned by the then newly-founded Moral Majority defame the content of Our Bodies, Ourselves and “the feminist agenda” as a threat to the nation.

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A copy of the proposed Human Life Amendment, annotated by a S.H.E. member (Sisters for Health Education [S.H.E.] records, MSP 150, Box 2, Folder 6).

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Senator Richard Lugar’s response to a letter sent by a member of S.H.E. (Sisters for Health Education [S.H.E.] records, MSP 150, Box 2, Folder 6).

For contemporary readers, reproductive rights debates often seem a clear-cut dichotomy, a war between pro-life or pro-choice advocates. But the S.H.E. records expose much more nuanced and complicated perspectives on the issue than we might now imagine. Among proponents of the Women’s Health Movement, many were involved in other causes, including the anti-war and burgeoning environmental movements. Feminist small presses exploded across the country in the 1970s, capturing the conversation of the Women’s Movement and its intersecting discourses with other social movements for justice and equality – and the members of S.H.E. were tapped in.

A copy of the feminist small press magazine Win demonstrates the growing intersectionality of causes (Box 3, Folder 17).

A copy of the feminist small press magazine Win demonstrates the growing intersection of causes (Sisters for Health Education [S.H.E.] records, Box 3, Folder 17).

A political cartoon accompanies a New York Times article on abortion from 1980, its critique surprisingly contemporary (Box 2, Folder 6).

A political cartoon accompanies a New York Times article on abortion from 1980, its critique surprisingly contemporary (Sisters for Health Education [S.H.E.] records, MSP 150, Box 2, Folder 6).

UNTIDY ENDINGS

Ultimately, the collection ends abruptly and offers no explanation of what became of S.H.E. and its inspiring members. After the last materials dated 1982, there is silence. Earlier articles and letters hint at a struggle to maintain the flow of funds necessary to keep the resource going – the phone bill their largest expense. Marcia Whisman continued to send postcards and letters to her feminist sisters at S.H.E. even after she moved to Maryland to pursue graduate work. In a letter, she shares her intention to establish a similar resource at her next university, anticipating that women everywhere were in need of the knowledge to understand and care for their bodies.

In fall of 2015, Purdue hit another major milestone in caring for its women students: after years of student activism amid a growing national discourse surrounding sexual assault on college campuses, Purdue University announced the establishment of C.A.R.E., the Center for Advocacy, Response, and Education, a relationship violence and rape crisis center slated to open at the start of the 2016-17 academic year.

As one of the students who spent four years writing to university administration, organizing and speaking at Take Back the Night rallies, and talking with local media about the need for this resource, I cannot help but wonder what the members of S.H.E. would think of this newest result of grassroots feminist efforts at Purdue.

And I wonder, where did their feminist rabble-rousing take them and were they thanked enough for the work they did?

The struggle continues, sisters. Fight on.

P.S. Look for a newly donated collection on the years of student activism and advocacy that went into getting the Center for Advocacy, Response, and Education in the near future.

Editor’s Note: Dana Bisignani is a graduate assistant working in the Women’s Archives and an anti-violence activist and educator. A two-time recipient of the Berenice A. Carroll Award for Feminism Peace, and Social Justice, and former graduate instructor in Purdue’s Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program, Dana left her doctoral program this year in order to pursue anti-violence education and prevention work full-time.

A Tragic Telegram and a Goofy Movie

Last year, near the anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance, I started digging. It was a momentous occasion–Earhart is one of the more famous historical figures who spent time at Purdue and whose life is documented in our collections. I was searching our databases, looking for some materials from around the time of Earhart’s round-the-world flight. Often if I find something interesting, I will share it with our followers on Twitter. As I scanned the list of search results, I came across this:

earharttelegram2

I wasn’t prepared for it. The telegram, sent from George Putnam, Earhart’s husband, responding to his son, David Binney Putnam, was sent shortly after contact was lost with Earhart’s plane. It reads: “THANKS DEAR BOY IT HELPS THERES PLENTY OF HOPE YET LOVE DAD.”

When I read it, I felt a sense of dread sinking into me. Knowing that Amelia was not coming back–ever–made George’s hopes all the more tragic. But reading this note, with its short, desperate prose, and knowing that it was just a family thing in that moment, between father and son and an absent stepmother, gave the document a sacred quality. I shouldn’t be reading this. I wasn’t meant to read this. But why feel this way? It’s history. It’s public.

History is often interesting to read about from a distance. We can reflect on how day-to-day life has changed since a famous person’s time, such as Earhart’s heyday of the 1920s-30s. We can joke around about silly fashion and customs from the past. The past is removed from us; we don’t have access to it, so it feels foreign and alien and often quite backwards. We cannot understand why, for example, Purdue students used to race around Memorial Mall on tricycles while people threw buckets of water at them. It makes no sense.

But some things make too much sense. And its in those moments of discovery, when history recorded in writing or film becomes less distant. It comes closer to our own experience as people and becomes less alien. It’s someone we know. It’s how we feel now. For all its strangeness, the tricycle water-bucket race does appeal to a certain sense of goofy fun. The people in the film look like they’re having a good time–and why not? They’re racing around a circle or throwing buckets of water on people. It’s not just hilarious because it’s strange; it’s hilarious because it looks like it might be fun to do.

George’s letter to David about Amelia made sense. The hope still hanging over both of them, the hope that she might show up, somewhere, adrift in the sea, or stranded on an island–a little worse for wear, but still smiling–that hope made more sense than anything. If you’ve ever lost someone, you know about hope. And you might have also felt that same sense of sinking dread I did when you read the telegram, knowing she didn’t come back. That the hope was disappointed. And in that moment, Amelia Earhart wasn’t just a famous missing person. Not just a feminist role model. She was more than her ideals or legend. She was someone like you or me.

ameliahaircut

And we lost her.

This year marks the 78th anniversary of Earhart’s final flight.  For me, that short telegram reveals so much of the power of history and the importance of preservation. History research does more than just generate academic knowledge and understanding–all of which is important, good, and necessary for our society. It is notes like George’s that tell us what history can be: a moment of human connection transcending time.

The telegram can be viewed online with other materials from the time of the initial search for Earhart’s plane.  These materials are within the full George Putnam Palmer Collection of Amelia Earhart papers, as well as the Amelia Earhart at Purdue Collection, and can be viewed in Archives and Special Collections digital repository e-Archives.