We will be exploring Mississippi’s rich aviation history in this series. From early flight photographs to the moon landing and beyond, MDAH collections document this exciting part of our past.
This photograph represents one of those times when a researcher comes across an unexpected treasure in the archives. The photograph, from the Matthews (Burnita Shelton) Papers, depicts (l-r) Judge Burnita Shelton Matthews; Mrs. Harvey W. Wiley, National Woman’s Party; Amelia Earhart, famous aviatrix; Anita Pollitzer, National Woman’s Party; and Mrs. Ruth Taunton at the White House in 1932. Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, is immediately recognizable because of her tall stature and short haircut. Matthews was a Mississippi native who was a prominent figure in the women’s movement.
Burnita Shelton Matthews (1894-1988) was born in Burnell, Mississippi, and studied music and voice in Cincinnati before marrying lawyer Percy Matthews in 1917. She studied law at the National University in Washington, D.C., (now George Washington University) and received the bachelor of laws degree in 1919. She practiced law in Washington, D.C., for twenty-five years and was actively involved in the National Woman’s Party. In the photograph at top, she is pictured with the leaders of the National Woman’s Party and Earhart, who also was a strong supporter of women’s rights and the Equal Rights Amendment.
Matthews was appointed to the United States District Court of the District of Columbia by President Harry S. Truman on October 21, 1949, becoming the first woman to be appointed as a federal district court judge. She retired from that position in 1968 and continued to serve on other federal courts until 1983. She died in 1988 and is buried in the Shelton family cemetery in Copiah County.
Matthews is in the Mississippi Hall of Fame and the portrait above, as well as other Hall of Fame portraits, are on exhibit at the Old Capitol Museum.