Though the July 1937 disappearance of Amelia Earhart over the Pacific remains shrouded in mystery, her courage, vision, and groundbreaking achievements in aviation and for women continue to inspire. Today, on the anniversary of her birth – July 24, 1897 – we’re celebrating everything the pioneering aviator represents by sharing her words of wisdom for and about women.
What You Should Know About Amelia Earhart
Born July 24 in 1897, Amelia Mary Earhart was 10-years-old when she saw her first plane at a state fair. She wasn’t impressed, saying “It was a thing of rusty wire and wood and looked not at all interesting.” But her perspective changed after attending a stunt-flying exhibition, almost a decade later. That’s when she became seriously interested in aviation. Then, on December 28, 1920, pilot Frank Hawks took her on a ride that would change her life, forever. “By the time I had gotten two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly,” she recounted at some point.
“Although Earhart’s convictions were strong, challenging, prejudicial, and financial obstacles awaited her, but the former tomboy was no stranger to disapproval or doubt. Defying conventional feminine behavior, a young Earhart climbed trees, ‘belly slammed’ her sled to start it downhill, and hunted rats with a .22 rifle. She also kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in predominantly male-oriented fields, including film direction and production, law, advertising, management, and mechanical engineering.”
Amelia, the 1st woman to be issued a pilot’s license from the National Aeronautic Association, “took her first flying lesson on January 3, 1921 and, in six months, managed to save enough money to buy her first plane. The second-hand Kinner Airster was a two-seater biplane painted bright yellow – Earhart named her newest obsession ‘The Canary’ and used it to set her first women’s record by rising to an altitude of 14,000 feet.” There would be many more “firsts” to follow for her.
“My ambition is to have this wonderful gift produce practical results for the future of commercial flying and for the women who may want to fly tomorrow’s planes.”
One afternoon in April 1928, Amelia got a phone call. The man asked, “How would you like to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic?” She replied, “Yes!” So plans were put in motion and she was asked to join pilot Wilmer “Bill” Stultz and co-pilot/mechanic Louis E. “Slim” Gordon. “The team left Trepassey Harbor, Newfoundland, in a Fokker F7 named ‘Friendship’ (on June 17, 1928), and arrived at Burry Port, Wales approximately 21 hours later. Their landmark flight made headlines worldwide because three pilots had died within the year trying to be that first woman to fly across the Atlantic.”
From that point on, Amelia’s life “revolved around flying” and she came up with a new goal… to be the first woman and the second person to fly solo across the Atlantic.
On May 20th, 1932, five years to the day after Charles Lindbergh made his historic flight from New York to Paris, Amelia took off from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, to Paris, France. She had just crushed her goal. As word of her solo flight across the Atlantic spread, “the media surrounded her, both overseas and in the United States.” President Herbert Hoover presented Earhart with a gold medal from the National Geographic Society. Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross -the first ever given to a woman. Amelia felt the flight proved that men and women were equal in “jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness, and willpower.”
In the years that followed, Amelia “continued to reach new heights, setting an altitude record for autogyros of 18,415 feet that stood for years. On January 11, 1935, she became the first person to fly solo across the Pacific from Honolulu to Oakland, California.” And later that year, “she was the first to solo from Mexico City to Newark.”
In 1937, as Earhart neared her 40th birthday, she was ready for a monumental challenge: she wanted to be the first pilot – male or female – to fly around-the-world solo at the equator (another pilot, Wiley Hardeman Post, had already successfully made the first around-the-world solo flight in July 1933… his history-making flight path was further north). So on June 1st, Amelia and her navigator Fred Noonan departed from Miami and began the 29,000-mile flight to circle the globe. Tragically, she never achieved that final goal as her journey was suddenly cut short. Amelia’s last known transmission was at 8:43am on July 2, 1937, and her disappearance remains a mystery today.