Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Amelia Earhart: America's Most Beloved Aviatrix

Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart was a record-breaking aviatrix who was smart, beautiful and a wonderful role model for young women of her time and beyond. She was a pioneer in aviation and set new standards for female pilots. However, she did not only break records for women; she broke records, period. Anything that hadn’t been done before, she would try.  She also organized flying competitions for women, and she was the founder of the famous Ninety-Nines. Today, she is mostly known for her unfortunate death, but she led a much more extraordinary life.

Amelia Earhart was born on July 24, 1897 to Amy and Edwin Earhart. She was born at her maternal grandparents’ home in Atchison, Kansas while her father was away working as a lawyer. She had one sibling, a younger sister named Muriel. Amelia and Muriel stayed with their grandparents and went to private schools that were payed for by them. When Amelia was ten, her mother went to live with her father in Des Moines, Iowa. It would be two years before Muriel and Amelia went to live with them.

When Amelia was ten, she and her sister joined their parents in Des Moines. Shortly thereafter, Amelia Earhart saw her first airplane while at the state fair with her father. Unfortunately, Edwin Earhart wasn’t very successful in his business life and he was disliked by his in-laws. He began drinking heavily and by the time Amelia was sixteen, Edwin was jobless and a full-time drunk. Her mother decided to take her and Muriel to Chicago, where they stayed with a friend of Amy’s.

In 1917, at the age of twenty, Amelia decided to go into training to become a nurse. Upon completion of her training, she volunteered at a military hospital until the end of the first World War. The following year she began medical studies at Columbia University. Soon after, in 1920, Edwin and Amy got back together and asked Amelia to come live with them in California. She took them up on the offer and abandoned her studies to be with her family.

A few months after moving to California, Amelia and Edwin Earhart went on a plane ride. It was the first time Amelia had ever been up in the air and she loved it. She began taking lessons with an accomplished female instructor soon after. Around this time she bought her first airplane, a Kinner prototype, which she famously crashed. The plane was easily fixed and she continued with her lessons, later flying solo until her father filed for divorce and Amelia chose to sell her plane to buy an automobile.

The women of the Earhart family decided that they should move to Boston. Muriel went ahead of Amelia and Amy to established a home for them there. The other two drove across the country to Boston in Amelia’s new car. After Amelia arrived in Boston, she joined the Boston chapter of the National Aeronautic Association. In 1926, Amelia got a phone call that would initiate the changing of history. Captain H.H. Riley called to ask her if she would like to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Of course, she did.

On June 18, 1928, Earhart left Nova Scotia on her first trip across the Atlantic Ocean. The trip was successful. A new record had been set. However, she had only been a passenger and this did not suit headstrong Amelia. She went back home and did publicity tours, continued flying, wrote a book and formed the Ninety-Nines.

During this downtime between record-breaking flights, Amelia met and fell in love with editor George Putnam. This must have been difficult because he was married when they first met. There were rumors of an illicit affair, but it is likely that they were just friends at the start. Putnam’s wife left him eventually. Afterward, he proposed to Amelia several times before she finally said yes. The couple got married on February 7, 1931. A little over a year later, she was back to making history.

On May 20, 1932, Amelia Earhart left on the flight that would make her the second person (the first being Charles Lindbergh) to fly solo across the Atlantic. She not only succeeded, but she did so in record time. Two years later she was the first person to fly from Hawaii to California. She then set her sights on a trip around the world.

It was on July 2, 1937, that Amelia Earhart left on her ill-fated trip around the world with her navigator Fred Noonan. The pair made several stops to refuel and get provisions. Nearly two-thirds of the journey was complete when they ran into some trouble. They were having difficulty establishing their location and made several radio transmissions in an attempt to recover, the last of which was heard at 20:14 GMT on July 2, 1937. Amelia Earhart was never seen or heard from again.

It is estimated that she must have gone down within 100 miles of Howland Island. That means she made it an astounding (for the time) 22,000 miles before disappearing. She broke at least one record on this flight, but it was overshadowed by loss. Attempts were made to locate the beloved aviatrix, her navigator and her plane, but no traces of any of them were ever found.

Amelia Earhart was only 40 years old when she died. She broke many records during her short life, but more importantly she set an example for young women that still has significance more than 70 years after her tragic death. She left behind an amazing legacy that is truly a gift to American history.


Amelia Earhart 1897-1937, retrieved 8/16/09, ellensplace.net/eae_intr.html

Biography of Amelia Earhart, retrieved 8/16/09, ameliaearhartmuseum.org

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