Saturday, March 5, 2011


We think nothing of hearing news reports today about women astronauts, and female pilots aren't even newsworthy. We take it for granted now that women are just as capable of doing these jobs as men and can be just as (if not more) successful at it. However, that wasn't always the case. In the time period that Amelia Earhart was born into, women had very defined and very restricted roles in society.


Amelia Mary Earhart was born to Amy and Edwin Earhart on July 24, 1897. Amelia spent most of her younger years living with her grandmother in an eleven-room house in Atchinson, Kansas.

Early in her life, it was clear that Amelia couldn't limit herself to traditional roles of the time. She played basketball in high school, excelled in math and science, and took pre-med classes at Columbia University. She was daring and loved adventures and excitement. She always had a determined spirit, and a natural curiosity that led her to adventure.

In Amelia's childhood, boys were permitted to ride sleds down the hills of Atchison while lying down, but girls were expected to sit up in a more ladylike posture. Amelia, not surprisingly, defied convention and lay down on her sled. At one point, she wrote, this posture saved her life.

"I was zipping down one of the really steep hills in town when a junk man's cart, pulled by a horse with enormous blinders came out from a side road. The hill was so icy that I couldn't turn and the junk man didn't hear the squeals of warning. In a second my sled had skipped between the front and back legs of the horse and got clear, before either he or I knew what had happened. Had I been sitting up, either my head or the horse's ribs would have suffered in contact -- probably the horse's ribs." (Source: Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum)


When Amelia was asked why she wanted to fly, she replied "I want to be free." Later she said, “I want to fly around the world.” When told “it can't be done,” she said, "lets change that."

Amelia lived her life the way she wanted to live it, on her own terms--in her career and in following her dreams. She was instantly famous, some because of how dangerous flying was and how unsafe planes were, but mostly because she was a woman that went above and beyond what people expected of her. It was because of that that people made her their hero.  She was ambitious and was always looking for thrills. She knew that it could be done and that she might never come back, but she felt that if she didn't come back, she had at least lived a full life. Amelia once said, "if I die, I want to die in a plane."

She started flying before parachutes were invented. Amelia first flew when she was in her early twenties, not married, her parents were struggling financially and in there relationship. Amelia said, "Once I got in the cockpit and the plane took off, we started heading toward the skies, and that's when I knew that that's what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

In 1938 she was the first person to fly across the Atlantic twice and the first woman to fly across the Atlantic at all. She was listed as the captain of the flight, but was really only a passenger. She said that she didn't feel like a heroin sitting in a passengers seat. So, six months later on May 20, 1932, she became the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean solo.  In doing this, she became an American and world celebrity.

She was the first woman to fly an Avian. In October of 1922, she broke the women's altitude record by rising to 1400 feet. In August 1928, she became the first woman to fly solo across the North American continent and back. She was elected president of the Ninety Nines, a new women's aviation club which she helped to form. She was the first person to fly from Honolulu to California. She was also the first person to attempt flying along the equator around the world which is when she disappeared.


Amelia married George P. Putnam on February 7, 1931. She considered her marriage to be a "partnership" with "dual control." In a letter written to Putnam and hand-delivered to him on the day of the wedding, she wrote, "I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any midaevil [sic] code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly." These ideas of sexual freedom and equality of both partners were considered quite radical. The two of them had no children together, but he had two from his previous marriage to Dorothy Binney.


Amelia Earhart was last heard from on July 2 1937. She radioed a coast guard ship in the Pacific where she was scheduled to refuel. The island she was heading for was only a mile and a half long, so she had to be on track in order to land.

She said, "We must be on you but cannot see you and gas is running low." The ship that was supposed to be tracking her could hear her, but she couldn't hear the ship. Then, at , her last words radioed were, "We're running north and south!"  After that...silence. Thirty-nine year old Amelia Earhart had vanished. She wasn't declared legally dead until two years after the disappearance.

Some historians now believe they have found evidence that Amelia and her copilot Fred Noonan landed and eventually died as castaways on Nikumaroro, an uninhabited tropical island in the Southwestern Pacific, republic of Kiribati.


Amelia Earhart proved that women could achieve great things just as well as men. She was a woman that demanded to have the adventures men were having. This led to the recognition, worldwide, that anyone—even a woman—could achieve anything they set their mind to. Every woman astronaut, every woman pilot, every woman in any position of authority anywhere owes at least a nod of thanks to this woman who very publicly shattered all the stereotypes that said that women couldn't do any of these things.

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