The name Lindbergh is inseparable from aviation. If you think you know about Lindbergh’s accomplishments, you might be surprised at what you never heard of.
For example, you may be aware of a history-making flight, additional achievements in aviation history, and the highly-publicized kidnapping and murder of a child.
Did you also know that Lindbergh’s father was the U.S. ambassador to Mexico? Were you aware that this celebrated aviator was a best-selling author?
Did you know she was a wife and mother?
You thought we were talking about Charles Lindbergh? The mistake is understandable. His first successful solo flight across the Atlantic propelled him to worldwide fame in 1927. His celebrity status sadly often eclipsed the accomplishments of his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, whom history would be more likely to remember if not for her husband.
Anne Murrow was born June 22, 1906, in Englewood, New Jersey. If pedigree is any indication of a person’s potential, all signs pointed in her favor from her birth. Her father was Dwight Morrow, a partner in J.P. Morgan & Co. He was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Mexico in 1927 by President Calvin Coolidge. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1930 and held office until his death in December 1931. Her mother, Elizabeth Cutter Morrow, was a poet, teacher, and acting president of Smith College.
In May 1927, Charles Lindbergh became a worldwide celebrity by piloting the first solo flight across the Atlantic. In December of that year, humorist Will Rogers invited Lindbergh to accompany him to Mexico on a goodwill tour. It was there that Anne and Charles met. For Anne, the meeting was unforgettable. She recorded her thoughts in her diary:
“He is taller than anyone else—you see his head in a moving crowd and you notice his glance, where it turns, as though it were keener, clearer, and brighter than anyone else’s, lit with a more intense fire…. What could I say to this boy? Anything I might say would be trivial and superficial, like pink frosting flowers. I felt the whole world before this to be frivolous, superficial, ephemeral.”
The couple fell in love. Charles took her flying on their first date. She wrote, “Suddenly, I felt the real sensation of going up — a great lift, like a bird, like one’s dreams of flying — we soared in layers. It was a complete and intense experience. I will not be happy till it happens again.”
Anne married Charles on May 27, 1929. Flying became part of their marriage from the beginning. Charles taught her to fly. In 1930, she became the first American woman to earn a first-class glider pilot’s license.
The same year Anne got her license, she and Charles broke the transcontinental speed record by racing from New York to Los Angeles in just over 14 hours. This is additionally remarkable under the circumstances — Anne was seven months pregnant at the time.
The couple spent many happy hours together in the air. Anne served as co-pilot, navigator, and radio operator as they crisscrossed the country. Together, they charted potential air routes in the USA and the Caribbean for commercial airlines and airmail service. The press declared they were the “First Couple of the Skies.”
In 1931, the aviation duo flew over uncharted regions of Canada, Alaska, Japan, and China. Ann chronicled the experience in North to the Orient, her first book.
In their single-engine Lockheed, Sirius, the Lindberghs continued on their adventures, spending five and a half months conducting a 30,000-mile survey of the air routes of North and South America. The experience was, according to Charles, more difficult and hazardous than his solo flight across the Atlantic. Anne wrote about this part of their adventures in her second book, Listen! The Wind.
For her contributions to aviation and geography, Anne was awarded the Hubbard Medal in 1935 by the National Geographic Society.
In total, Anne would write 13 published books. Among them was Earth Shine, in which she reflected on witnessing the launch of Apollo 8 and how the pictures the astronauts took of the earth gave humankind “a new sense of Earth’s richness and beauty.” Another, The Steep Ascent, was a venture into fiction inspired by her experiences, in which she tells the story of a perilous flight made by a husband and wife.
It was out of the pain of her life that she was inspired to write some of her most impactful books. There certainly was no shortage of grief in the years to come.
The tragedies started on March 1, 1932. Their 20-month-old son, Charlie, was snatched from his bedroom. The kidnappers left a note, demanding $50,000 ransom in exchange for the return of the boy.
The incident captured headlines all over the world. For ten weeks, police searched for clues that might reveal the young boy’s whereabouts. Among those who aided in the investigation were New Jersey State Police Superintendent Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf, whose son, General Norman Schwarzkopf, commanded U.S. and coalition forces in the Gulf War. Also assisting was William J. Donovan, who would later head the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA.
Sadly, the search for young Charlie ended ten weeks after the kidnapping. The boy’s lifeless body was found half-buried in the woods of Trenton, New Jersey.
The case went unsolved for two years until Bruno Richard Hauptmann was arrested and charged with the crime. Hauptmann professed his innocence, but he was convicted on February 13, 1935, and executed in the electric chair on April 3, 1936.
Newspaper writer H. L. Mencken called the kidnapping and trial “the biggest story since the Resurrection.” It prompted Congress to pass the Federal Kidnapping Act, commonly called the “Little Lindbergh Law” which made transporting a kidnapping victim across state lines a federal crime.
The horror and the publicity surrounding Charlie’s kidnapping, death, and the ensuing trial consumed Anne’s life and stripped away any hopes for a fairy tale life for her. The couple retreated from the public eye. When they received threats against their second child, Jon, they moved the family to Europe for safety and privacy.
During their residency in Europe, the couple fell under the spell of Nazism. Adolf Hitler, eager to capitalize on the Lindberghs’ reputation, used the couple for publicity. Charles received a medal from Hermann Göring in 1938, and Anne wrote a book encouraging Americans not to involve themselves in the growing European conflict because fascism was “the wave of the future.”
Anne later admitted they were “both very blind, especially in the beginning, to the worst evils of the Nazi system.” In 1939, the Lindberghs returned to the United States as Europe plunged headlong into World War II. The attack on Pearl Harbor two years later removed the last vestiges of isolationism from Anne’s thinking.
The Lindbergh family continued to grow during this time. All told, Charles and Anne had six children from their marriage: Charles Augustus Lindbergh Jr. (1930–1932); Jon Morrow Lindbergh (1932–2021); Land Morrow Lindbergh (b. 1937); Anne Lindbergh (1940–1993); Scott Lindbergh (b. 1942); and Reeve Lindbergh (b. 1945).
Their growing family disguised the sad fact that Anne’s marriage was dissolving before her eyes. She experienced ever-deeper postpartum depression after the birth of each child. Even the weeks-long flights with her husband to “wean” her from her children were unable to resolve her condition.
As Anne sought psychotherapy, Charles moved out of their bedroom. He continued to make headlines wherever he went, but she was confined to the home, relegated to second place behind her world-famous husband.
In 1955, Anne wrote her most popular book, Gift from the Sea. In it, she dealt with her experience as a wife, taking second place to her husband. Women throughout the country identified with her, making it the best-selling nonfiction book for 1955. It spent 80 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and was in the number one spot for 47 of those weeks.
She wrote, “I begin to understand why the saints were rarely married women. I am convinced it has nothing inherently to do, as I once supposed, with chastity or children. It has to do primarily with distractions … woman’s normal occupations, in general, run counter to creative life, or contemplative life, or saintly life.”
By this point, Charles had strayed from his marriage vows, secretly pursuing three long-term affairs, from which he fathered seven children. resulting in seven illegitimate children. Despite this, the couple remained married until Charles’ death in 1974.
For the remaining 22 years of her life, Anne became an advocate for women and the environment. Although eclipsed by the reputation of her husband, Anne’s accomplishments were not entirely unnoticed. She was admitted to the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1979 and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1996. In 1999 she was admitted to the International Women in Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame.
Anne died on February 7, 2001, at the age of 94. Although her fame never equaled that of her husband’s, she did live long enough to see significant advancements in society’s view of women. This pioneer aviator, best-selling author, and remarkably-accomplished woman left a legacy that will inspire generations to come.