By Brad Dison
Mary and her husband, George, attended a dinner party at Anna’s home. Anna’s husband was away on business so she convinced her brother, Hall, to be her escort at the formal affair. It was a big to-do. All of the men wore dress suits or tuxedos. The women wore “dinner dresses,” which differed from evening party gowns and reception gowns in the kind of fabrics used. Anna wore a white satin dress with matching gloves. The dinner party guests made small talk in the hall until the butler announced, “Dinner is served.”
The men escorted the ladies into the dining room and to their designated seats. The guest list was long, but Anna made sure that Mary sat at her table. Mary and Anna were strong-minded women, and became fast friends when they met the previous year.
As etiquette necessitated, the meal was doled out in multiple courses. No one refused a course regardless of whether or not they intended to eat it. If a course did not suit their fancy, they used their utensils and pretended to eat it while making small talk. Each course lasted a certain number of minutes. The plates or bowls for each course were promptly removed at predetermined times whether or not the guests were finished eating. Everything was done with military precision.
During the multi-course dinner, Anna realized that Mary was becoming impatient with the formalities. Mary, somewhat of a tomboy, always preferred trousers to dresses. Mary enjoyed the freedom of movement trousers provided although she recognized that all of the other females wore dresses. She may have recognized it, but it certainly did not alter her decision to wear trousers. On this occasion, however, Mary wore a fine dinner dress with a mink coat (which she probably borrowed) because she would never have turned down Anna’s dinner invitation.
Mary had had enough. She was enjoying her conversation with George, Anna, and Hall, but the steady stream of servants and all of the rules of etiquette were just too much. The dinner seemed to last forever. Finally, Mary hatched a plan. She suggested to Anna that they sneak out of the party and take a short evening pleasure flight. To Anna, it seemed like the perfect adventure.
To the surprise of the wait staff, Anna, Hall, George, and Mary excused themselves from the dinner party with the simple explanation that they would return shortly. The other guests continued with their dinner as if nothing had happened. The foursome drove to the airport and boarded an Eastern Air Transport’s twin-engine biplane. The pilot and co-pilot taxied the plane onto the runway and took off.
Free from the stuffy dinner party, Mary and Anna were truly enjoying themselves. As the plane leveled out, Mary suggested that they, Mary and Anna, take their adventure to the next level and fly the plane. Anna, not one to back down from a challenge, eagerly agreed. This was her chance to fly. Anna had applied for pilot’s license but her husband persuaded her not to take flying lessons because he dreamed that she had crashed an airplane.
Mary and Anna told the pilot and co-pilot that they were going to fly the airplane for a few minutes. No record exists of George or Hall’s reaction to their decision to commandeer the airplane. Neither Mary nor Anna would take no for an answer, so Mary traded places with the pilot and Anna with the co-pilot. For a few brief minutes, the two ladies, still in dinner gowns and mink coats, flew in the skies between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore, Maryland, before returning to the airport. Elated, the foursome returned to Anna’s dinner party just as the dessert course was being served. The other patrons of the dinner party welcomed them back and continued with their own conversations.
Mary and Anna were thrilled with their flight of fancy. No one would expect the First Lady of the United States, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt, to leave a dinner party at the White House and take a flight with Mary. Five years later, Mary and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared somewhere over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to circumnavigate the globe in an airplane. On January 5, 1939, Amelia Mary Earhart was declared dead in absentia.
1. “Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt Flying from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore,” Pioneers of Flight, accessed May 17, 2022, pioneersofflight.si.edu/
2. “Pilots in Evening Gowns: When Amelia Earhart and Eleanor Roosevelt Took to the Skies,” A Mighty Girl, accessed May 17, 2022, amightygirl.com/blog?p=25357.