Amelia Earhart: Fearless Pioneer, Advocate for Equal Rights
Women’s History Month 2019
Amelia Earhart endures in the American consciousness as one of the world’s most celebrated pioneer aviators. To this day, she remains a symbol of the power and perseverance of American women, and the spirit of adventure that so essential to who we are as Americans.
Born in Atchison, Kansas in July 1897, she spent her childhood in various towns, including Atchison and Kansas City, Kansas and Des Moines, Iowa. At age 19, Amelia attended Ogontz School near Philadelphia. Two years later, after visiting her sister, Muriel, in Toronto, Canada, Amelia felt compelled to leave school. Taking a course in Red Cross First Aid, Amelia enlisting as a nurse’s aide at Spadina Military Hospital in Toronto, Canada, tending to wounded soldiers during World War I. The following year, Amelia enrolled as a premedical student at Columbia University in New York. Shortly thereafter, Amelia’s parents insisted she move to California where they were living.
Learning to fly in California, she took up aviation as a hobby, taking multiple jobs to pay for her flying lessons. In 1922, with the financial help of her sister, Muriel, and her mother, she purchased her first airplane, a Kinner Airster.
After a series of record-making flights, she became the first woman to make a solo transatlantic flight in 1932. That same year, Amelia developed flying clothes for the Ninety-Nines. Her first creation was a flying suit with loose trousers, a zipper top and big pockets. Vogue Magazine advertised it with a two-page photo spread. Then, she began designing her own line of clothes “for the woman who lives actively.”
She dressed according to the occasion whether it was flying or an elegant affair. She was most conscious of the image she projected. Several New York garment manufacturers made an exclusive Amelia Earhart line of clothes which were marketed in 30 cities, with one exclusive store in each city, such as Macy’s in New York and Marshall Field’s in Chicago.
In June 1937, Amelia embarked upon the first around-the-world flight at the equator. On July 2, after completing nearly two-thirds of her historic flight — over 22,000 miles — Amelia vanished along with her navigator Frederick Noonan. They took off from Lae, New Guinea, bound for tiny Howland Island in the vast Pacific Ocean. The distance from Lae to Howland was about equal to a transcontinental flight across the U.S. A great naval, air and land search failed to locate Amelia, Noonan, or the aircraft, and it was assumed they were lost at sea. To this day, their fate is the subject of unending speculation.
Beyond her adventurous spirit, Amelia was also a strident advocate for equality and women’s rights as an instrumental support of the Equal Rights Amendment. She received the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross for her solo flight across the Atlantic. Today, she continues to feed the inspirations of young women and men around the globe to exceed perceived boundaries, confront fears and strive to make the world a better place to live.
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control your life and the procedure. The process is its own reward.” – Amelia Earhart