Amelia Earhart: The Aviation Icon Who Showed What Women Can Do

Amelia Earhart woman pilot

Amelia Earhart was an American aviation pioneer. She became a record-breaking female aviator whose international fame improved the public acceptance of aviation and championed the advancement of women in the industry. Amelia achieved celebrity status by becoming the first female passenger to cross the Atlantic by aeroplane. She also became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Earhart’s disappearance during a flight around the world in 1937 became one of the greatest unsolved mysteries, one that draws speculations up till this day.

Early Life

She was born as Amelia Mary Earhart in Kansas, US, on July 24, 1897. She was the eldest of her siblings. Throughout her childhood, her family struggled financially due to her father’s alcoholism. They moved around often, and Earhart finally completed her high school in Chicago in 1916. After her mother received her inheritance, Earhart was able to enroll herself in a college. Although, she eventually left college midway to serve as a Red Cross nurse’s aide in Canada during World War One. During her time at the Canadian military hospital, she met many aviators and became intrigued by flying.

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Her Flying Career

Earhart took her first aeroplane ride in 1920 with Frank Hawks, the famed World War I pilot. And there was no looking back from there. She realised her true passion and began flying lessons with another female aviator Neta Snook. On her twenty-fifth birthday, Earhart purchased a second-hand Kinner Airster plane that she nicknamed ‘the Canary’. She passed her flight test in 1921 and a year later, set the record for becoming the first woman to fly solo above 14,000 feet.

In 1929, Earhart helped found the Ninety-Nines, an organisation of female aviators. A year later, accompanied by pilot Wilmer Stultz, she became the first female passenger to cross the Atlantic by aeroplane. This particular record shot Earhart to fame: she became a media sensation and a symbol of what women could achieve. Much of the publicity was handled by the publisher George Palmer Putnam, who had helped organise the flight itself. Earhart later married Putnam, although she continued her career under her maiden name and always considered the marriage an equal partnership.

In 1932, Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean — as a pilot. She was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for achieving this feat. Earhart was also the first woman to receive the said honour. Later that year, Earhart set the record for becoming the first women to make the solo, nonstop flight across the United States. In 1935, Earhart also became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the United States mainland. The same year, Purdue University hired Earhart as an aviation advisor and a career counsellor for women. Additionally, Earhart also debuted a functional clothing line, which was, according to her, designed “for the woman who lives actively.”

Her Disappearance and Legacy

In 1937, Earhart set out to fly around the world, with Fred Noonan as her navigator. They reached Lae, New Guinea, on June 29. They were merely 7,000 miles away from completing their task and reach Oakland. The pair departed Lae on July 2. Unfortunately, it was the last time Earhart was seen alive. She and Noonan lost radio contact, and disappeared en-route.

A massive two-week search was undertaken to find the pair, but they were never found. On July 19, 1937, the operation was called off, and the pair was declared lost at sea. Throughout the trip, Earhart had sent her husband various materials, including letters and diary entries, which were later published in the form of a book titled Last Flight (1937).

Although the official documents from the US government state that Earhart and Noonan crashed into the Pacific Ocean, Earhart’s mysterious disappearance captured the public’s imagination and generated numerous theories­. Some believed the plane crashed on a different island, failing to locate their destination. Others predicted that the two were captured by the Japanese. However, no definitive evidence was ever found for any of these claims. Over time, the life and death of Amelia Earhart became a prominent fixture in popular culture.

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A fierce proponent of gender equality, Earhart was an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. Her organisation—Ninety-Nines—today represents women flyers from over 44 countries. She lived her life according to her own rules, and paved the way for the numerous women who came after her. And today, on the day of her birth anniversary, it becomes all the way more important that we remember and honour the unparalleled contributions of this legendary woman.

Dyuti Gupta is an intern with SheThePeople.TV.