Amelia Earhart

From New World Encyclopedia

Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart 1935.jpg
Amelia Mary Earhart in 1935
BornJuly 24, 1897
Atchison, Kansas, USA
DiedDate of death unknown.
Missing July 2, 1937 over central Pacific Ocean near Howland Island, and declared dead on
January 5, 1939.
OccupationAviator, author and spokesperson
Known forFirst woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and set many aviation records.
Spouse(s)George P. Putnam
ParentsSamuel "Edwin" Stanton Earhart (1868-1930) and Amelia Otis Earhart (1869-1962)

Amelia Mary Earhart, born in Atchison, Kansas on July 24, 1897 (missing in flight as of July 2, 1937), daughter of Edwin and Amy Otis Earhart, was an American aviator and noted early female pilot who mysteriously disappeared over the Pacific Ocean during a circumnavigational flight in 1937.

Daughter of a railroad attorney, she grew up as a tomboy in the American Midwest and continued to defy what was considered conventional feminine behavior throughout her life. The action and daring of her youth was not set aside in adulthood. A volunteer in a Red Cross Hospital during World War I, she worked at a settlement house in Boston before briefly studying pre-medicine. As a young woman she also taught English to immigrant factory workers. The airplane was captivating the public's imagination, Amelia's included. She made her first solo flight in 1921 and soon after bought her own plane. By becoming the first woman to cross the Atlantic in an airplane, Amelia gained immediate fame. Her flying accomplishments proved influential to pilots the world over.

Influential in the creation of the Ninety Nines organization, she was also considered one of the first truly liberated women in America. She was a role model who encouraged women to hold strong to their beliefs, to follow their callings and to dream. One of the world's most celebrated aviators, she is a role model for young women, considered a "symbol of the power and perseverance of American women." Her adventurous spirit was an example of the character necessary to challenge the accepted norms and achieve greater heights. Sadly, her radical independence seems to have prevented her from a true bond of shared life even in marriage.

Early Life and Education

Amelia Mary Earhart was born on July 24, 1897 at her grandparents' home in Atchison, Kansas. Amelia's mother, Amy, having suffered a miscarriage in an earlier pregnancy, had gone from her home in Kansas City to be under the watchful eyes of her parents. Her husband, Edwin Earhart, remained with his law practice in nearby Kansas City during this period. A sister, Muriel, would be born 2 1/2 years later. Amelia was named after her two grandmothers, Amelia Otis and Mary Earhart.

While school was in session, Amelia and Muriel lived primarily with their maternal grandparents in Atchison, spending their summers with their parents in Kansas City. Amelia's grandparents were considered leading citizens of the town of Atchison. The Earhart sisters enjoyed the privilege and wealth of their grandparents, attending the private College Preparatory School, and lived a relatively comfortable life.

In 1905, the private law practice owned by Amelia's father, Edwin Earhart, failed. He then took an executive job with the Rock Island Railroad in Des Moines, Iowa. Edwin and his wife Amy moved to Des Moines, leaving their daughters with their grandparents in Atchison, where they remained until 1908.

When Amelia was a young teen, her father began to drink heavily. When Amelia was 14 years old her beloved maternal grandmother died. This affected Amelia particularly strongly, as the two of them had been quite close. During this time, her father lost his job and entered a sanatorium for a month in an effort to conquer his alcoholism. These were difficult years for Amelia and her sister. The death of their grandmother and the drinking problem of their father was compounded by their move from a comfortable life in Atchison to an uncertain and unknown new home in Des Moines, Iowa.

The trials of her family caused the Earharts to relocate often. Amelia lived in and attended schools in Atchison, Kansas; Des Moines Iowa; St. Paul Minnesota; Springfield, Missouri and Chicago, Illinois. When Amelia was 17 years old her parents separated.

Amelia entered college in October 1916, attending the Ogontz School near Philadelphia. There she excelled in her classes, played hockey and studied French and German. Though she rankled some by her outspokenness, she was voted Vice President of her class, Secretary to a local Red Cross Chapter, and Secretary and Treasurer of Christian Endeavor. During her senior year, while vice-president of her class, she composed the class motto: “Honor is the foundation of Courage.”

Though she was doing well at Ogontz she did not complete her senior year. While visiting her sister Muriel, who was attending St. Margaret’s College in Toronto, Ontario, she was deeply moved by the sight of wounded soldiers walking down the street together. She quit school and moved to Toronto to join the war effort there.

She received training as a Certified Nursing Assistant and, in November 1918 began to work at Spadina Military Hospital in Toronto. By 1919 Earhart had enrolled at Columbia University to study pre-med but quit a year later to be with her parents who had reconciled in California.

Soon after, in Long Beach, California she and her father went to a stunt-flying exhibition, the following day she went on a ten-minute flight. Within six months, Earhart purchased a yellow Kinner Airster biplane that she named "Canary." On October 22, 1922, she flew it to an altitude of 14,000 feet, setting a women's world record. On May 15, 1923 Earhart was the 22nd woman to be issued a pilot's license by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI).

Adult years

Amelia Earhart was a modern woman. With a strong social conscience, she was considered courageous and independent by those who knew her. In an era when aviation was considered a man's world, she was a pioneer and role model who encouraged and motivated many. Through her many activities that she crusaded for: equality for women, the advancement of women in aviation, and the viability of commercial aviation and international peace.

Diverse undertakings

Amelia was a woman not only of many interests, but of action. When something moved her heart, she acted upon it. Though she is best known for her aviation career, some of her other endeavors included:

  • In 1918 she became a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse at the Spadina Military Convalescent Hospital in Toronto, Ontario caring for wounded World War I soldiers. As many of the patients treated at Spadina were British and French pilots, the Earhart sisters were drawn to spending time at a local airfield watching the pilots train.
  • In 1919 Amelia took an all-girls auto repair class in the spring. That autumn she enrolled as a pre-med student at Columbia University in New York City.
  • In 1920 - 1921 she decided to buy a plane and take flying lessons. She worked in a photography studio and as a filing clerk at the Los Angeles Telephone Company to support these interests.
  • In 1920 - 1921 Amelia began submitting poetry for publication under the pen-name Emil Harte. She eventually wrote two books.
  • In 1925 Amelia taught English to foreign students at a Harvard University summer extension program. From June to October of that year, she worked as a companion in a hospital for mental diseases.
  • In 1926 Amelia began working part-time as a social worker at Denison House, Boston’s oldest settlement house. There, she taught English to Syrian and Chinese children and their parents. She eventually became a full-time resident staff member and was elected Secretary to the Board of Directors.
  • In 1934 Amelia launched a fashion house to manufacture and market clothing she designed.


Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic on June 18-19, 1928. A wealthy American expatriate living in London, Amy Guest, was the original architect of this concept. Mrs. Guest had originally wanted to make the flight herself, but after consideration, hired George Putnam, a New York publicist who had promoted Charles Lindbergh's book We, to look for a suitable woman pilot. Little-known at the time, Amelia Earhart was selected by Putnam and introduced as "Lady Lindy."

Though Putnam was married when he first met Amelia, the extensive time they spent together eventually led to intimacy, and after substantial hesitation on her part she agreed to marriage. Putnam divorced his wife, and he and Amelia married on February 7 1931.

Earhart referred to the marriage as a "partnership" with "dual control," and appears to have asked for an open marriage. In a letter written to Putnam shortly before their wedding she said, "I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly." [1]

Amelia and George formed a successful partnership, each pursuing their individual careers. (Amelia continued her aviation career under her maiden name.) George organized Amelia's flights and public appearances, and arranged for her to endorse a line of flight luggage and sports clothes. He used his abilities as a publicist to turn Amelia into a household name.

George also published two of Amelia's books, The Fun of It, and Last Flight. In 1939, he wrote her biography, entitled Soaring Wings, as a tribute to his beloved wife.

Career in Aviation

Amelia Earhart is best known as the first female to make a transatlantic flight. She achieved a number of aviation records: the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, in 1928; the second person to fly solo across the Atlantic, in 1932; and the first person to solo from Hawaii to California, in 1935. Earhart joined the faculty of Purdue University in 1935 as counselor on careers for women, exploring new fields for young women to enter after graduation. Amelia disappeared in 1937, as she attempted to become the first woman to fly around the world.

Aviation achievements

Earhart walks on White House grounds with President Herbert Hoover, January 2, 1932.

Ace Pilots records Earhart's achievements as:

  • October 22, 1922 - Set women's altitude record of 14,000 feet
  • June 17-18, 1928 - First woman to fly across the Atlantic; 20hrs 40min (Fokker F7, Friendship)
  • August 1929 - Placed third in the First Women's Air Derby, aka the Powder Puff Derby; upgraded from her Avian to a Lockheed Vega
  • Fall 1929- Elected as an official for National Aeronautic Association and encouraged the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) to establish separate world altitude, speed and endurance records for women
  • June 25, 1930 - Set women's speed record for 100 kilometers with no load, and with a load of 500 kilograms
  • July 5, 1930 - Set speed record for of 181.18mph over a 3K course
  • April 8, 1931 - Set woman's autogiro altitude record with 18,415 feet (in a Pitcairn autogiro)
  • May 20-21, 1932 - First woman to fly solo across the Atlantic; 14 hrs 56 min (it was also the 5th anniversary of Lindberg's Atlantic flight; awarded National Geographic Society's gold medal from President Herbert Hoover; Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross
  • August 24-25, 1932 - First woman to fly solo nonstop coast to coast; set women's nonstop transcontinental speed record, flying 2,447.8 miles in 19hrs 5min
  • Fall 1932 - Elected president of the Ninety Nines, a new women's aviation club which she helped to form
  • July 7-8, 1933 - Broke her previous transcontinental speed record by making the same flight in 17hrs 7min
  • January 11, 1935 - First person to solo the 2,408-mile distance across the Pacific between Honolulu and Oakland, California; also first flight where a civilian aircraft carried a two-way radio
  • May 8, 1935 - First person to fly solo nonstop from Mexico City to Newark; 14hrs 19min [2]


Lockheed Vega 5b flown by Amelia Earhart as seen on display at the National Air and Space Museum

The Ninety-Nines is an International Organization of Licensed Women Pilots from 35 countries that was founded on November 2, 1929 at Curtiss Field, Long Island, New York for the mutual support and advancement of women in aviation. All 117 women pilots licensed at the time were invited. The group is named for the 99 licensed women pilots who attended the meeting or expressed an interest in joining the group. Charter members along with Amelia Earhart included Fay Gillis Wells, Ila Loetscher, Phyllis Fleet, Candis Hall, Louise Thaden, Ruth Nichols, and Mildred Stinaff.

The organization remained loosely structured for two years, until Amelia Earhart became their first elected president in 1931. Membership was immediately opened to other women as they became licensed pilots. The organization's founding purposes continue to guide the organization today.

The Mission Statement of the Ninety-Nines is to:

"Promote world fellowship through flight. Provide networking and scholarship opportunities for women and aviation education in the community. Preserve the unique history of women in aviation." [3]

The Amelia Earhart Birthplace in Atchison, Kansas was given to the Ninety Nines in 1984. Full restoration of the home to the era when Amelia lived there is an ongoing process, with long-term plans for a museum on site.

Ms. Earhart is recognized as a driving force in the creation of the organization. As such, a living memorial was established in the form of an annual scholarship, Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarship. Begun in 1939 by Ruth Nichols, the scholarships were established to carry on Amelia's enthusiastic and unselfish aims.

1937 World Flight: Final Flight

Earhart and Noonan by the Lockheed L10 Electra at Darwin, Australia on June 28, 1937 during her final flight

In 1937 Amelia Earhart, just shy of her 40th birthday, had sought a final challenge. "I have a feeling that there is just about one more good flight left in my system, and I hope this trip is it." [4] Amelia determined to become the first woman to fly around the world. Though not the first global flight, it would be the longest due to its planned equatorial route - 29,000 miles. She had attempted a flight in March which had severely damaged her plane. She had the twin engine Lockheed Electra rebuilt for the historic flight.

The journey began on June 1st when Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan departed from Miami. They landed in Lae, New Guinea on June 29, just 7,000 miles shy of completion. Navigation proved to be challenging for Noonan due to maps that frequently proved to be inaccurate. They anticipated their next leg of the journey would be most challenging: Howland Island was the next stop, 2,556 miles away in the mid-Pacific. The island is only 1.5 miles long and half a mile wide. They removed everything from the plane that was considered unessential to make room for additional fuel. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca, their radio contact, was stationed just offshore. Howland was such a small spot in the vast ocean that three additional U.S. ships were positioned along the flight route as visual markers, burning every light on board.

Earhart's plane took off for Howland Island just after noon on July 2. Though the weather reports were favorable, the skies were overcast and held intermittent rain showers. Celestial navigation, the system Noonan used, was essentially impossible. Earhart radioed the Itasca just before dawn, asking its location. The next scheduled transmission did not come and subsequent transmissions were either faint or interrupted with static. At 7:42 A.M. the Itasca picked up the message, "We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet." The ship tried to reply, but the plane seemed not to hear. Earhart's final report, at 8:45 simply said, "We are running north and south." [5]

The most extensive air and sea search in naval history began immediately. The government reluctantly called off the search on July 19 after spending $4 million and scouring 250,000 square miles of ocean. A lighthouse was constructed on Howland Island in 1938 in Earhart's memory.

Since their disappearance many theories have arisen as to Earhart and Noonan's fate. However there is no evidence that is considered solid proof as to what happened on that fateful flight. However, clearly, Amelia Earhart has gone down in history as a woman of courage, vision, and groundbreaking achievements.

Prior to her final flight, Earhart penned a letter to her husband;

"Please know I am quite aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others." [6]

Legends and Legacy

The Amelia Earhart Bridge (the taller bridge, in background) over the Missouri River between Atchison, Kansas and Buchanan County, Missouri. The lower bridge in foreground is a rail bridge.

During the decades since Amelia's disappearance many rumors and urban legends have circulated and often been published about what might have happened to Earhart and Noonan. There is no evidence to support any of these suggestions, which have all been dismissed by serious historians. Many researchers believe the plane ran out of fuel and Earhart and Noonan ditched at sea.

However, one group (TIGHAR—The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery) suggests they may have flown for two and a half hours along a standard line of position, which Earhart specified in her last transmission received at Howland, to Gardner Island (now Nikumaroro, Kiribati) in the Phoenix group, landed there, and ultimately perished. TIGHAR's research has produced a range of documented, archaeological and anecdotal evidence, but no proof, supporting this theory. [7]

Another popular theory suggests Earhart overflew the Marshall Islands to photograph Japanese military installations for pre-war intelligence planning and then was to proceed on to Howland Island. Her aircraft however was either intercepted by Japanese fighters or suffered a mechanical failure and she and Noonan were taken prisoner by the Japanese and later killed in Saipan.

Some also suggest they may have returned to the U.S. under new names. To this day, U.S. government documents concerning Earhart and her disappearance remain classified.

In 1942, a United States Liberty ship named the SS Amelia Earhart was launched. It was wrecked in 1948.

Amelia was inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1992.

Singer Joni Mitchell wrote a song called "Amelia," loosely about Earhart, that is recorded on her 1976 album, "Hejira."

Earhart is mentioned in the song "Someday We'll Know" by the New Radicals, later covered by Mandy Moore and Jonathan Foreman for the movie A Walk To Remember.

Amelia Earhart was a widely-known celebrity during her lifetime. Her shyly charismatic appeal, independence, persistence, coolness under pressure, courage and goal-oriented career along with the mysterious circumstances of her disappearance have driven her lasting fame in popular culture. Hundreds of books have been written about her life, which is often cited as a motivational tale, especially for girls. Earhart is generally regarded as a feminist icon who blazed a trail of achievement for generations of women who came after her.

Books by Earhart

Amelia Earhart was an accomplished and articulate writer who served as aviation editor for Cosmopolitan times magazine from 1928 to 1930. She wrote numerous magazine articles and essays, and published two books based upon her experiences as a flyer during her lifetime:

  • 20 Hrs., 40 Min. was her journal of her 1928 flight across the Atlantic as a passenger (making her the first woman to make such a journey).
  • The Fun of It was a memoir of her flying experiences, as well as an essay on women in aviation.

A third book credited to Earhart, Last Flight, was published following her disappearance and featured journal entries she made in the weeks prior to her final departure from New Guinea. Compiled by Putnam himself, historians have cast doubt upon how much of the book was actually Earhart's original work and how much had been embellished by Putnam.


  1. Heroes of History. Amelia Earhart Retrieved January 20, 2008.
  2. Earhart - Pioneering Woman Aviator, Lost on Flight over the Pacific Retrieved January 21, 2008.
  3. Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum. Ninety Nines Retrieved January 21, 2008.
  4. Family of Amelia Earhart. Amelia Earhart, Celebrating 100 Years of Retrieved January 22, 2008.
  5. Family of Amelia Earhart.
  6. Family of Amelia Earhart.
  7. TIGHAR.The TIGHAR Hypothesis Retrieved January 22, 2008.

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External links

All links retrieved July 23, 2023.


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