Amelia Earhart was born in Atchison, Kansas on July 24th, 1897 into a family with an alcoholic father who was never able to conquer his addiction. During particularly rough times, her mother would take Amelia and her sister to their grandmother’s home. Here they would run the neighborhood, climb trees, hunt for critters and race down hills on Amelia’s sled. Even then, Amelia had a need for adventure and thrill!
Amelia's turbulent childhood is probably what caused Amelia to be independent and free-thinking. She could not depend on her father to provide security for the family, therefore she came to rely on herself. Amelia's family moved a lot and she found it difficult to become rooted in any one place. Amelia moved to Chicago in 1915, where she attended Hyde Park High School.
After Amelia graduated, she volunteered as a nurse’s aide for the Red Cross after being touched by the sight of wounded soldiers returning home from WWI. Amelia befriended many of these soldiers who were pilots. She enrolled at Columbia University to study medicine but had to pull out after a year to join her parents in California.
In 1920, Amelia was at an air show in Long Beach, where she took a plane ride. These 10 minutes in the air transformed her forever! This is when she knew that she simply had to fly. She took any job that she could find in order to pay for flying lessons, which she took from Anita “Neta” Snook, a pioneering female aviator. She started reading anything she could get her hands on about aviation and spent all her free time at the airfield. She even slept in her new leather jacket and she cut her hair short.
In 1921 Amelia purchased her first plane and in October of 1922 she set a female aviation record by flying 14,000 feet. In may of 1923 she became the 16th woman in the world to acquire a pilot’s license. Family finances forced her to sell her plane and find work as a teacher and then a social worker. By 1927, she was a member of the American Aeronautical Society’s Boston chapter and was an investor in the Dennison Airport located in Massachusetts. She became a Kinner plane sales rep and wrote promotional articles for the local paper, becoming a type of celebrity.
After Lindbergh’s solo flight in 1927, interest in female aviation grew. When Cpt. Hilton H. Railey asked her if she’d like to fly the Atlantic, without thinking, she said “Yes!” In June of 1928, Amelia flew with Wilmer Stultz and Lois Gordon. Stultz did all the flying of the 20 hour and 40 minute flight. Amelia stated afterward that she felt more like baggage, adding, “maybe someday I’ll try it alone.” Amelia became involved with the Ninety-Nines, an organization committed to the advancement of female aviation. She would become its first president in 1930.
Amelia as Entrepreneur
A whole new world opened for Amelia as an aviator and an entrepreneur and she was nicknamed “Lady Lindy.” Few people know she had a business mind as well as flying skills. Her manager, George Putnam, proceeded to promote her through a book, lecture tours and product endorsements.
After years of making her own clothing Amelia became involved in designing women’s fashions. This new line was a symbol of feminine power and an easy, active style. In 1932 Amelia created a line of flying clothes for the Ninety-Nines. Her exclusive line was manufactured in New York and made its way into storefronts such as Macy’s and Marshall Field’s. Her clothing was featured in Vogue and marketed in 30 cities. Amelia always dressed with specific intent, keenly focused on the occasion.
An Ideal Union
Amelia finally agreed to marry George in February of 1931. They were quite happy, treating their union as a modern, equal and civilized partnership. Amelia kept her maiden name and continued her aviation and professional career.
George published Amelia’s three books: 20 Hrs, 20 Min; The Fun of It and Last Flight. Soon after she was declared deceased in 1939, he published her biography entitled Soaring Wings.
Amelia's Last Flight
Although Amelia was brave, gracious and tenacious, she never had the opportunity to master the modern technology being introduced into aviation. During her last flight, she and her navigator, Fred Noonan, experienced radio trouble while trying to cross the Pacific Ocean along the equator. Most researchers conclude that they both died at sea after her aircraft ran out of fuel while trying to land at Howland Island, about 2,000 miles from Lae, New Guinea.
New artifacts from Amelia’s fateful journey are still being discovered and every so often, new speculation surfaces about the final details of her last flight. Unfortunately, we will never know what really happened. Today we still feel the loss of an incredible woman who made history-for the nation, for women and for the Midwest.