441496520 Hrs. 40 Min. — IntroductionMarion Perkins


By Marion Perkins

Miss Perkins is Head Worker at Denison House, Boston’s second oldest settlement, with which Amelia Earhart has been identified for two years.

A TALL, slender, boyish-looking young woman walked into my office in the early fall of 1926. She wanted a job and a part-time one would do, for she was giving courses in English under the university extension. Most of her classes were in factories in Lynn and other industrial towns near Boston. She had had no real experience in social work but she wanted to try it, and before I knew it I had engaged her for half-time work at Denison House. She had poise and charm. I liked her quiet sense of humor, the frank direct look in her grey eyes.

It was some time before any of us at Denison House knew that Amelia Earhart had flown. After driving with her in the “Yellow Peril,” her own Kissel roadster, I knew that she was an expert driver, handling her car with ease, yes more than that, with an artistic touch. She has always seemed to me an unusual mixture of the artist and the practical person.

Her first year at Denison House she had general direction of the evening school for foreign-born men and women. She did little teaching herself, but did follow-up work in the homes, so necessary to the success of such an undertaking. In her report of her year’s work after we had planned her next year’s program, which did not include the evening school, she wrote: “I shall try to keep my contact with the women who have come to class; Mrs. S. and her drunken husband, Mrs. F.’s struggle to get her husband here, Mrs. Z.’s to get her papers in the face of odds, all are problems that are hard to relinquish after a year’s friendship.”

In the spring of 1927, Denison House was giving a country carnival for the benefit of the house. For such a good cause, Amelia consented to fly over Boston and drop publicity dodgers. She first said that she would do this if her name could be kept out of the papers! We had to use some persuasion to keep her from flying incognito. The first day of the carnival, the Boston police up and down Boylston and Tremont Streets were perhaps too amazed to try to arrest a man and woman, apparently Italian peasants just landed, who drove back and forth in a queer yellow car, stopping now and then to grind a tune on a battered hand-organ and to distribute handbills.

The organ grinder was Amelia Earhart.

Youth, keeping a heart, a soul and a body that are wide open to all the rich opportunities of life—that is part of Amelia’s creed. How many times I have heard her say that, to her, one of the biggest jobs of the social worker in a settlement is just that—to give boys and girls the experiences that will keep them young and that will develop a zest for life. Last fall, she came to Denison House as a resident and as a full-time staff worker. She has directed the work of girls from five to fourteen years and has had general charge of the pre-kindergarten. Jokingly we have sometimes called Amelia the “official secretary,” for she is the secretary of the staff, of the Board of Directors (to which she was elected this year) and to the House Committee of the board. She has an unusual flair, in a meeting, for the gist of the thought and expresses herself in writing with accuracy and originality. Last year and this, Amelia has been a member of an inter-settlement committee working on child-study records.

She herself made studies of children that show her keen insight into child life. Here are sentences taken from her record of a seven-year-old boy. “Ferris is fond of making experiments of various kinds. How far can the pencil be moved before it falls? How high can the chairs be piled before spilling? He conceived the idea on a cold day of ‘warming’ his little sister’s beads on his father’s stove. That the beads were hot enough to burn the child when she put them on was not part of the experiment.”

“Where is Miss Earhart now?” “Is she still flying?” “Gee, I hope she beats that other woman.” These and hundreds of other questions greeted us on Tyler Street. “Is she coming back soon?” “I couldn’t sleep last night thinking about her flying.”

The day she told me of the trans-Atlantic project, and swore me to secrecy, she said, “And I’ll be back for summer school. I have weighed the values and I want to stay in social work.” Her simplicity, her honesty, her complete lack of any quality that makes for sensationalism—this is Amelia Earhart. A few days after the flight project was under way, a dinner guest at Denison House, who was learning to fly at the East Boston Airport, told of the big Fokker monoplane that Byrd was “to fly to the Antarctic”; just a quiet twinkle across the room to me from Amelia’s eyes, and afterwards an infectious chuckle as we enjoyed the incident together.

One day last year, after a discussion of L. P. Jacks’ lectures on The Challenge of Life, she handed me some verses. Here they are, more appropriate at this time than any words I can write:

Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace.
The soul that knows it not, knows no release
From little things:
Knows not the livid loneliness of fear,
Nor mountain heights where bitter joy can hear
The sound of wings.
How can Life grant us boon of living, compensate
For dull grey ugliness and pregnant hate
Unless we dare
The soul’s dominion? Each time we make a choice, we pay
With courage to behold resistless day,
And count it fair.