Amelia Earhart was an extraordinary women who’s legend lives on many years beyond her death (or was it?) In her time she was known as “the most daring adventurer in the world”. That time was the 1920s and 30s. Please note her title. She wasn’t known as the most daring woman, or girl, but the most daring adventurer (more daring than every other adventurer, male or female) in the whole wide world.
The era that Amelia Earhart was born into was a very exciting one for women. Now it is referred to as “first wave feminism”. The first wave had been a movement through the 18th and 19th centuries that had moved westward from France. Though the focus on most feminists of this period were the legal aspects of inequity between genders, many of the heroines of this time were women who fought to be the best on their own terms and with the aid of men who supported them.
One of the most striking things about the women from this era is the language they use to articulate themselves and their professional relationship with men.
“Women, like men, should try to do the impossible. And when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others.” is a quote attributed to Amelia Earhart.
“Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”
“Never interrupt someone doing what you said couldn’t be done.”
Do you find anything here that does not resonate with you here in the 21st century?
Amelia Earhart was born, the eldest of 2 sisters in 1897. Amelia (Meeley or Millie as she was known by friends) and her sister Grace were blessed with a mother who did not believe in molding her daughters into “nice little girls”. When she was 7 she fashioned a ramp and roller coaster which she rode, resulting in a torn dress and a thick lip. As she emerged from the broken box she had built, she announced that it was “just like flying” and the flying bug appears to have been caught here. She saw her first bi plane when she was 10 at a flying show, but it was of no interest to her.
Amelia and her sister were home schooled by their mother who fostered Amelia’s interest in reading through a large family library.
In 1918 Amelia visited the National Canadian Exposition. A highlight of the day she visited was an air display by a World War 1 veteran. Seeing Amelia and a friend in the audience, the world war 1 ace buzzed them in the plane. As the plane dived towards her, Amelia chose to stand her ground. “ I did not understand it at the time, but that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.”
It was another 2 years before she got her first flight. Her father bought her a $10 flight for 10 minutes with air racer Frank Hawks. She wasn’t 300 feet off the ground when she knew she had to fly. She found the top female aviator, Anita Snook and demanded “I want to fly – will you teach me?” Within 6 months she had her own plane and her own look. She cut her hair short and found a leather jacket that she slept in for 3 nights to give it a worn look. She fully transformed her look to become a female aviator. Within 2 years she set a new record in height for female pilots and a year later became the 16th woman to have a pilot’s license.
“The woman who can create her own job is the woman who will win fame and fortune.”
After Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic flying solo, the race was on to find the first woman. Amelia was chosen and made the first female flight. She felt it was all a bit of cheat as she was accompanied by a co pilot, male, who did most of the flying and she felt like a passenger.
Shortly after her return to the US she set about making what she called an “untarnished” record. In 1928 she became the first woman to fly solo across the United States continent and then back again.
She joined The Ninety Niners, an organisation dedicated to the advancement of women in aviation.
It is very easy to find out information about the many flights, records and races that Amelia took part in between 1928 and 1937. Assuming you are curious, reader, I shall leave you to search for her accolades.
The end of her life is shrouded in mystery, more rich and ripe than Agatha Christie could write.
In 1937 she attempted to be the first woman to circumnavigate the globe. The first attempt was aborted when it appeared a tire had burst during take off.
The 2nd attempt ended in mystery. On July 2nd Amelia left Lea Island in New Guinea with a view to land at Howland Island. At 6.14 the next morning the operator received a call from Amelia on the radio that said she was 200 miles out from the island. At 6.45 another saying she was 100 miles out. At 7.58 she said she could should be overhead but could not see them. At 8.43 they received the last transmission from her, after which she disappeared. Despite a search for her that cost the US Navy department $4 million, she was declared dead in absentia in 1939.
There are 2 fabulous myths abounding still today about Amelia. The first is that she was captured and executed by the Japanese. Some claim to have seen photographic evidence of her on the deck of a Japanese warship.
The other (far more fun) is a myth that was perpetrated via a war propaganda movie in 1942. This suggests that Amelia’s disappearance was staged by the US State Department and that she assumed a new identity as a spy for Franklin Roosevelt.
There was another theory that she had lived and changed her name to Irene Bolam who lived in New Jersey. This theory was investigated and found to be false.
Who knows the truth around the end of her adventurous life. I will leave it to Amelia to give you the last word and in the hope that women hear these words and step up with this resounding cry.
“Adventure is worthwhile in itself.”