Most people who have heard of Amelia Earhart usually only know two things about her. some know that she was an aviatrix who was a celebrated figure in the 1920’s and 30’s. But most only know she went missing somewhere over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 while attempting to circumnavigate the globe. While her demise seems to garner the most attention, today we want to explore the life of Amelia Earhart and her lasting impact.
Amelia Mary Earhart was born on July 24th 1897 in Atchinson, Kansas. She was the first of two children. She and her sister lived in a house overlooking the Missouri River. “Meelie” as she was known as a child, had a reputation among the family for her seemingly infinite curiosity and off beat sense of humor.
Amelia and her sister were home schooled by their mother and a governess. Amelia’s first exposure to flying came when she was 10 years old and saw a flying demonstration at the Iowa State fair. She tried to build a glider and fly it off the roof of the family shed. The glider wasn’t successful and she was scuffed up. But the seed had been planted.
During the first World War, she and her sister were Nurse’s aides in Canada. She contracted Influenza from a patient that lead to a long convalesce and lifelong sinusitis and migraines.
After the war, Earhart attended Columbia University, preparing to study medicine but dropped out after a year and moved to California to be with her parents. She was feeling directionless and hoped visiting her parents would help cheer her up. While out walking with her father on December 28th, 1920 they spot an airshow and decide to attend. The airshow was by World War I flying Ace Frank Hawks. After the show Hawks agrees to take Amelia for a short flight. While the flight was only for a few hundred feet, it forever changed her life.
In less than a week, Amelia Earhart had already taken her first flying lesson and within two years had qualified for a pilot’s licence. She was only the sixteenth woman to do so at the time. She cut her hair off short and sported a leather jacket with her initials “A.E” emblazoned on it.
Earhart was very happy flying but for several years had difficulty finding a way to make a living doing so. It wasn’t until after May 22, 1927 when Charles Lindbergh had made the very first crossing of the Atlantic by air that her fortunes began to change. After Lindbergh’s success several new York publisher got the idea to create a female counterpart. Earhart was the perfect candidate. Amelia bore a fairly strong resemblance to Lindbergh and had over 500 hours of solo flight time. She was promoted as Lady Lindbergh”. In June of 1928, Earhart and Wilmer Stutz, and Louis Gordon crossed the Atlantic ocean, making Earhart the first woman to cross the ocean by air. But by her own admission she didn’t get to spend any time at the helm, and felt like a “sack of potatoes” since she didn’t really do much but ride along. In 1932 she would however, cross the Atlantic solo, and would be the first woman ever to do so.
Crossing the Atlantic had turned Amelia in to a star. She received a ticker tape parade when she returned to NYC had endorsement deals with several products. She became an honorary Professor of Aerodynamics at Purdue University, wrote a couple books and countless articles in magazines and also and appeared in several Hollywood movies.
Earhart with Harpo Marx, Eleanor Roosevelt and Bing Crosby
One of the publishers who helped promote Earhart was a man named George Putnam who Earhart would later marry. Biographers and historians have had much to say about the nature of the marriage. Much of it merely speculation. Out of respect for her privacy and her memory, I don’t want to comment on the speculation, it’s out there, you can read about it if you choose to. It was an open marriage. Both parties dated other people. Putnam certainly helped create her image and marketed from it. The letters between them were affectionate. The relationship seemed to work for them.
Earhart later went on to establish many records in the field of Aeronautics. She was the first person to fly across the Pacific and was working on a circumnavigation of the globe when she disappeared in July 2, 1937 somewhere between New Guinea and Howard Island in the Pacific Ocean. It was the last leg of her journey. The theories of her disappearance range from crashing in to the Pacific, to being captured and executed by the Japanese who occupied the island hear where she went missing, all the way to a secret spy mission. despite the largest search ever at the time, no body or signs of wreckage have ever been identified as Earhart’s.
There have been numerous books written about her life even a movie in 2009 starring Richard Gere and Hillary Swank as Earhart
A dress and shoes from the movie
The city of Atchison is well known for its beautiful mansions here are a few
Earhart left a lasting impression in the field of Aviation as well as being an icon in the women’s rights movement. Her courage, tenacity and skill blazed a clear pathway many women and men still follow today.
The Earhart museum is in Atchison, Kansas about a hour north of Kansas City. It is worth the visit and stick around for a drive to see the many beautiful mansions nearby.