“Women, like men, should try to do the impossible. And when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others.” – Amelia Earhart
History is fascinating, for it informs us of the progress that takes place as centuries go by. Science, medicine, research and discoveries – there’s always something that pushes the envelope further along. Today’s GiveHer5 Story of a Legend in focus is Amelia Earhart. An American aviation expert, a pioneer as well as a published writer, she was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean alone.
As a child, Earhart was independent and full of adventure, traits she would later be known for. Her mother came from a wealthy family, and her father was a railroad lawyer. On her grandparents passing, the family went through financial struggles while Amelia’s father had a drinking problem. The family had to move several times with Amelia finishing her schooling in Chicago. When Earhart’s mother received her inheritance, her daughter was able to enrol in a school in Rydal, Pennsylvania called the Ogontz School. But, it was when Amelia visited her sister in Canada that she knew where her interests lay – in looking after the injured soldiers in the first world war. She went on to become a nurse’s aide in Toronto in 1918, leaving junior college to do so.
After the war ended, Earhart enrolled in Columbia University in New York City as a premed student but left in 1920 at her parents’ insistence to live in California with them. It was here that she went on her first plane ride – this motivated her to take flying lessons. A year later she purchased her first plane, and a couple of years later, she got her license to fly. Amelia then moved to Massachusetts carrying out social work at Denison House, a home to settle the immigrants in Boston. All this while she was persistent in her efforts and interest in aviation.
In 1928, it was desired that a woman should fly across the Atlantic Ocean and Amelia Earhart was chosen to do so. There was speculation that it was her likeness to Charles Lindbergh who had flown the same route alone making him the first man to do so. Earhart took off from Trepassey, Newfoundland in Canada on a seaplane that was flown by two men – Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon. When she landed in Burry Port, Wales on the 18th of June – Earhart was catapulted to international celebrity status. Amelia wrote about her experience in a book called 20 Hrs. 40 min. and toured the United States as a lecturer. It was George Palmer Putnam who took care of the publicity and had also contributed to organising the historic flight. He went on to marry Earhart in 1931 however she kept her maiden name to further along her career. In the same year, she flew an autogiro to 18,415 feet altitude breaking a record.
In her quest to keep her recognition justified, an ambitious Amelia took the journey across the Atlantic by herself on May 20th 1932. The flight took her from Newfoundland to Northern Ireland, and she completed the journey in 14 hours 56 minutes even in the face of numerous problems. Mechanical difficulties and harsh weather got in the way of her ability to land in her planned destination – Paris. After which, “The Fun Of It” an autobiography addressing her love for flying was published.
Amelia Earhart was not only known for her piloting skills – she inspired women to go after various opportunities, and stamp out any restrictive norms society imposed on them. Earhart founded the Ninety-Nines – an organisation of female pilots in 1929. She also launched a clothing line in 1933, designed for the woman who lives actively. In 1935 once again she made news for flying solo from Hawaii to California (the first solo flight) – a long and dangerous route much longer than the distance of the United States to Europe. The flight time was 17 hours and 7 minutes, and if this wasn’t enough, she went on to become the first person to fly alone from Los Angeles to Mexico City.
On June 1, 1937, Earhart and Fred Noonan – her navigator set out to fly around the world hoping to cover 47000 km. They made several stops in the following weeks to refuel before reaching their destination, which was Lab, New Guinea on the 29th of June. By then, the two of them had already covered 35,000 km. On 2nd of July, the duo flew towards Howland Island. At a distance of 4200 km, the journey was expected to be a gruelling one considering the place they were landing at; a tiny atoll was considerably hard to locate. The pilots had the assistance of two U.S ships that were lit up and positioned to mark the path for navigational purposes. Earhart was also in constant contact with the U.S Coast Guard near Howland – but at some point, she sent word that fuel was running out. One hour later, her final message went through stating these words “We are running north and south” before she went missing. It was believed that the plane might have fallen 160 km away from the island, and despite an intensive search operation, the pilots could not be found. Finally, on 19th July the search was called off, and Earhart and Noonan were declared lost at sea. When she was alive, Earhart sent her husband letters and diary entries – all of which were published in a book called Last Flight.
The mysterious disappearance of Amelia Earhart captured the imagination of millions – sparking several theories and claims, none of which could be proved. Till today questions remain unanswered and her undying popularity has ensured that she continues to be a fixture in several books and movies about her life and her disappearance. Her life may have been cut short, but her contributions to the aviation industry were invaluable, cementing her as a female legend worth celebrating.