Amelia Earhart (July 24, 1897–1937)
Amelia Mary Earhart was an aviation pioneer who became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. She set many solo flying records and wrote several successful books about her experiences. She was a supporter of equal rights for women and saw her role to inspire other women and give them confidence that they could achieve the same as men. In 1937, aged just 40 years old, Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean on a solo flight attempting to circumnavigate the globe.
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward. “
– Amelia Earhart
Short Biography Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart was born in Atchison, Kansas. Her father was a lawyer and her grandfather a former federal judge, and leading citizen of Atchison.
From an early age, Amelia displayed a great sense of adventure and was often referred to as a ‘tomboy’. She enjoyed pursuits not common for girls of her age – such as shooting rats with a rifle, climbing trees and keeping wildlife such as worms and a tree toad. Her mother encouraged a greater freedom for her children that wasn’t common for the time. Her mother once commented that she didn’t believe in bringing up her children to be ‘nice little girls’. This spirit of relative freedom and adventure was a common trait throughout her life.
In 1909, Amelia and her sister joined her parents in Des Moines, Iowa, where her father was now working for the railroad company. Unfortunately, her father was diagnosed as an alcoholic, and later he lost his job. In 1915, the family moved to St Paul, Minnesota, before shortly having to move on again to Chicago.
In her young years, Amelia was educated at home. She was a keen reader and kept a scrapbook of women who had made significant achievements in fields that were at the time, primarily the preserve of men.
After moving to Chicago, Amelia tried to find a school with good science teaching, but she was disappointed by what was on offer, and her education proved a disappointment.
In 1917, she trained as a nurse and began volunteer work in the Spadina Military Hospital for wounded soldiers from the Western Front. In 1918, she contracted the Spanish flu, while working as a nurse in Toronto. It took her a year to recover and left her with chronic sinusitis, which adversely affected her flying.
Learning to fly
Around 1919, she had her first major flying experience watching a display by a World War 1 ace. She commented that something captivated her about flying and she developed a deep-seated desire to fly.
“I did not understand it at the time, but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.”
On December 28, 1920, she had her first flight with pilot Frank Hawks. She said.
“By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly.”
Working in a variety of jobs, Amelia saved up money to be able to pay for flying lessons. In 1921, with help from her parents, she was able to receive flying lessons from Anita Snook, a pioneer female pilot. By 1923, Amelia was the 16th women to be issued a pilot’s license.
By 1927, she had accumulated 500 solo hours flying. This was quite an achievement given the rudimentary state of early aviation. A pilot had to be good with manual controls but also adept at navigation and securing a safe flying route.
In 1931, she married George Putman, though she insisted on equal responsibilities in marriage and kept her own name. In a letter to her husband, she wrote:
“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.”
Together they had no children, though George had two children from a former marriage.
1928 Transatlantic Flight
In 1927, Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly solo from New York to Paris and it created a global media sensation. Shortly after, Amy Phipps Guest offered to sponsor a female who might be willing to undertake the flight.
In 1928, she accompanied pilot Wilmer Stultz on a 20-hour flight across the Atlantic to England. This flight received a significant deal of media attention and made Amelia a public figure. She was sometimes referred to as Lady Lindy; this led to profitable marketing opportunities with a cigarette company ‘Lucky Strike’. Her newfound image enabled her to become involved in the design of female fashion, focusing on simple, natural lines which were also practical to wear. Her image as a successful pilot also played a role in raising the profile of air travel for ordinary people. The 1930s was the real beginning of commercial air travel.
First Solo Transatlantic Flight 1932
Shortly after her first flight across the Atlantic, she set out to make several untarnished air flights on her own. She became the first woman to make a solo transatlantic flight on May 21, 1932; flying from Newfoundland to a field in Culmore, north of Derry
She also used her image to support women’s groups, especially women’s groups dedicated to flying such as the Ninety-Nines. She became friendly with Eleanor Roosevelt, who shared a similar outlook on human rights and female equality.
1937 World Flight
With support from Purdue University, Earhart began plans to make a challenging 29,000-mile global flight around the equator. It would not be the first flight to transverse the globe, but it would be longest staying close to the equator. She had a Lockheed Electra 10E – built to her specifications. For part of the flight, she would be joined by Fred Noonan, an experienced navigator.
By late June 1937, Earhart and Noonan had travelled from Miami to South East Asia and Lae, New Guinea. On July 2nd they took off from Lae intending to go to Howland Island. However, on their approach to Howland Island, there were radio messages that they were running low on fuel. Contact was lost, and the plane never made it to their destination. Despite an extensive search for the plane, they couldn’t be found, and they were presumed dead in absentia.
In a letter to her husband shortly before the final fatal flight, she wrote:
“Please know I am quite aware of the hazards, I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.”
The most widely accepted theory is that they ran out of fuel and had to ditch the plane in the sea. Others claim they may have made it to Phoenix Island.
Achievements of Amelia Earhart
- First female to fly solo from Hawaii to California. January 11, 1935
- First female to fly solo across Atlantic May 21, 1932
- Inspired a generation of female pilots to take up a domain primarily the reserve of men.
- Women’s Airforce Service Pilots who helped in World War II.
- Woman’s world altitude record: 14,000 ft (1922)
- First woman to fly the Atlantic (1928)
- Speed records for 100 km (1931)
- First woman to fly an autogyro (1931)
- Altitude record for autogyros: 15,000 ft (1931)
- First person to cross the U.S. in an autogyro (1932)
- First woman to fly the Atlantic solo (1932)
- First person to fly the Atlantic twice (1932)
- First woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross (1932)
- First woman to fly non-stop, coast-to-coast across the U.S. (1933)
- Woman’s speed transcontinental record (1933)
- First person to fly solo between Honolulu, Hawaii and Oakland, California (1935)
- First person to fly solo from Los Angeles, California to Mexico City, Mexico (1935)
- First person to fly solo nonstop from Mexico City, Mexico to Newark, New Jersey (1935)
Speed record for east-to-west flight from Oakland, California to Honolulu,
- Hawaii (1937)
- President Herbert Hoover presented Earhart with a gold medal from the National Geographic Society.
- Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross – the first ever given to a woman.
Citation: Pettinger, Tejvan. “Amelia Earhart Biography”, Oxford, UK. www.biographyonline.net, 11th Feb 2013. Last updated 1 March 2019.
Who Was Amelia Earhart?
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