Last month I read the book The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin, a fictional account of the life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. For those who haven’t made the immediate connection, Anne was the wife of Charles Lindbergh, the father of aviation. I don’t intend for this post to be a review of the book even though I highly recommend reading it; it was extremely well written and on par with The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (another fictional account of the first wife of Ernest Hemingway). Rather, I want to take the time to pause a moment and reflect on the incredible history of air travel.
Air travel today is dismal for the majority of fliers. Queues at the airport become tiresome and tedious and in-flight services are nearly non-existent, yet a plane still gets a traveler to his or her destination in what seems like the blink of an eye. Granted, flights to Australia or South Africa from the United States are still going to average around 20+ hours in the air when coming from the East Coast, but pull out a map and realize just how far away these destinations are. One can get to the other side of the world in just about a day whereas a century ago, a journey like that would have taken half a year, possibly more. Today, one flies places without a second thought. And yet, it wasn’t until a 25-year-old U.S. Air Mail pilot, Charles Lindbergh, flew non-stop from New York’s Long Island to a field near Paris, France in May 1927 that the idea of air travel becoming a normal reality actually happened. Lindbergh became the first person in history to be in New York one day and Paris the next. To think that something like this happened at a time when the majority of Americans were not automobile owners, where illiteracy was at high levels, and when American women had received the right to vote less than a decade before is astonishing.
But Charles Lindbergh wasn’t the only person to make aviation history. As the book suggests, Charles very much regarded his wife as his second-in-command, and not necessarily a spouse he was madly in love with. (The book implies that Anne often felt their marriage was more of a business relationship.) In 1929, the year they were married, Anne flew solo for the first time, and in 1930 became the first American woman to earn a first-class glider pilot’s license. The Lindberghs were the first to fly from Africa to South America, and explored polar air routes from North America to Asia and Europe.
I can’t say that I admire Charles Lindbergh the person, husband, or father as he didn’t sound like the “nicest” of fellows. However, from a traveler’s view, he truly gave us the luxury of travel, the means of travel. Air travel today is not always a smooth or pleasant venture yet I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have felt like on the Spirit of St. Louis 86 years ago.
And as an alum of an all-women’s college, I humbly tip my hat to Anne Lindbergh, a genuine hero in women’s history.