But sometimes, the reverse happens: someone we admired as a child turns out to be even better than we imagined, and the more we learn, the larger their stature grows.
I've had that experience with two of my childhood heroes: Eleanor Roosevelt and Amelia Earhart. I was always fascinated with both these women. I read kids' biographies about them, saw documentaries, collected quotes, and just generally loved the idea of them, in a kid way. Imagine my joy and amazement when I learned that my idol Joni Mitchell identified with her, too.
Now that I've learned much more about them, as an adult, I can truly say they are heroes. (If it seems I'm always referring to people as heroes, it's because I have a lot of them - my famous role models for what's important in life.)
Roosevelt and Earhart had much in common, as both women were consciously, radically feminist. (Roosevelt, if she lived today, would still be a radical. The world has yet to catch up with her vision and her brilliant open mind.) And I've recently learned that they were friends! They flew together several times; their friendship made Roosevelt want to take flying lessons. (FDR said no!)
In my last "what i'm reading" post, I was about to start Still Missing: Amelia Earhart and the Search for Modern Feminism by Susan Ware. And the more I learn about "Amelia" - as I still think of her, from childhood days - the more I love her. Earhart, the aviator - and Earhart the feminist, writer, public speaker, clothing designer, and towering public figure.
Earhart was overtly, consciously feminist. She used every opportunity - and there many, as when she wasn't flying, she was writing, speaking, giving interviews and otherwise trying to raise money for more flights - to champion women's rights, to talk about women's achievements, to place her own accomplishments (and those of other female aviators) in a larger context, as proof that women were capable individuals, and deserved equal opportunity and treatment.
Like my favorite baseball player, Lou Gehrig, Earhart's death overshadows her life. Her disappearance has become what she's best known for, the way that Gehrig's farewell speech overshadows his incredible career.
Earhart's personal life is very interesting to me, too. She had an innate understanding of what came to be called "the personal is political". She was highly skeptical about marriage, which for middle-class women in those days, meant the death of individuality and achievement. After much reluctance, she eventually married her manager and publicist, G. P. Putnam. They had a modern marriage by any standards, one based on mutual respect, friendship and a working relationship. (Also one purposely without children.)
Before she would agree to marry Putnam, Earhart wrote this:
There are some things which should be writ before we are married - things we have talked over before - most of them.I relate to this letter in many ways. I'd love to talk to Earhart and find out how it really worked out.
You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which mean much to me. I feel the move just now as foolish as anything I could do. I know there may be compensations, but have no heart to look ahead.
On our life together I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me, nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly. If we can be honest I think the difficulties which arise may best be avoided should you or I become interested deeply (or in passing) with anyone else.
Please let us not interfere with the other's work or play, nor let the world see our private joys or disagreements. In this connection I may have to keep some place where I can go to be myself now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinement of even an attractive cage.
I must exact a cruel promise, and that is you will let me go in a year if we find no happiness together.
I will try to do my best in every way and give you that part of me you know and seem to want.
I wish I could meet Amelia, hang out with her. Maybe she would let me borrow a scarf.
Here is Amelia Earhart, as she should be remembered.