When you talk about the most influential women of the 20th century, Amelia Earhart has surely earned her way into that discussion.
Not only was she an early pioneer among women in aviation, but she gained international acclaim for the way she challenged traditional gender roles and redefined what was considered feminine behavior.
She stood as a symbol of freedom for women worldwide – going after her dreams independently and without regard for her many doubters.
Her story is well known throughout the ages, especially for it’s tragic end.
This is about the woman before her mysterious disappearance, and the legacy she left on redefining the role women have in society.
Name: Amelia Earhart
Nickname(s): Lady Lindy, Millie
Birth: July 24, 1897 (Atchison, KS) (about an hour northwest of Kansas City)
Death: Unknown (disappeared July 2, 1937) (Age 39)
Claim to Fame: First woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger and solo, first woman to fly coast to coast across the US, numerous other first’s for women in aviation
Other Professions: Telephone operator, Social Worker, Writer, Speaker, Career Counselor, Entrepreneur
Strengths: Courage, Strength, Resolve, Independence
Born within a poor, working class family, Amelia did not have a luxurious childhood by any means.
Throughout, her spirit of adventure was alive as her parents encouraged her to engage in what were considered (at the time) more masculine activities such as sports, hunting, fishing, and building.
Her father had to move around so much for work that Earhart went to no less than 6 different high schools before graduating.
She had big dreams. One unique thing she did was to keep a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in predominantly male fields.
Afterwards she enrolled in junior college, though only completed a single year. This is because during a trip to Canada, she saw many wounded veterans returning from World War I and was impacted greatly. She immediately signed up and received training to be a nurse’s aide.
It wasn’t until 1920 that she finally had her first passenger ride in an airplane. She was so enamored by it, that she found a teacher just 6 days later to give her her first flying lesson.
Earhart saved up enough money over the next 6 months to buy her first plane, a bright yellow Kinner Airster biplane she nicknamed “The Canary”.
Over the next several years, Amelia made a name for herself, enough so that she was asked to become the first woman ever to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.
A celebrity and social influencer was born.
Her bravery, skills and persona captured an audience on an international scale, and her accomplishments in the air spoke for themselves.
After setting numerous aviation records and firsts for females, she was ready to tackle her toughest challenge yet: a solo flight across the Atlantic.
From May 20-21, 1932 she did just that, becoming the first woman to ever accomplish this incredible feat.
Never satisfied, she went on to accomplish several more solo flight firsts for women around the North American continent.
By 1937, she was ready for a new feat: a round the world flight. With her navigator, Fred Noonan, they made it nearly 75% of the way before tragically disappearing over the Pacific Ocean.
While she was never found, her mysterious disappearance and lasting social impact have led her to be considered one of the most influential women in the 20th century.
As you could probably imagine, flying airplanes was no cheap hobby back in the 1920’s.
Those first flying lessons cost about a thousand dollars (nearly 13K in today’s dollars). Purchasing The Canary was even more at two thousand dollars.
In order to make her dreams a reality she had to work extremely hard and take some pretty odd jobs. She was a truck driver, stenographer, photographer and even a mail clerk.
Times weren’t always so good though.
She had to sell The Canary a few years after purchasing since she could not find a good enough job in aviation at the time.
Prior to her infamous transatlantic flight she was working as a social worker, airplane sales rep and journalist in order to make ends meet, while still pursuing aviation on the side.
This pursuit of her passion on the side is what led her into that amazing opportunity!
After the transatlantic flight, she became an instant celebrity. This opened up hundreds of avenues of making money to fund for her dreams of flying.
Earhart authored her own book, went on lecture tours, promoted products and began competitive flying among many other things.
She even tested her entrepreneurial side and had her own clothing line!
Amelia continued the speaking and lecture tours, and prior to her attempted round the world flight became a visiting professor at Purdue University to council women in their careers and be a technical adviser to their Department of Aeronautics.
While a majority of this money she earned went towards funding her various record flights, she made sure to send an allowance to family members to help support them as well.
The career behind Amelia Earhart is just as fascinating as the various aviation records she set!
Other Interesting Facts
Amelia Earhart had a pre-nup:
- After “reluctantly” (she did not want to be tied down) getting married in 1931, she had crafted a pre-nup that stated they would go their separate ways if after one year of marriage they were not happy together. Though they were happily married up until her disappearance, this was still an extremely progressive document for the times.
She was not the only woman aviator at the time:
- There were actually several other women aviators that have been lost in the history books. Some paved an easier road for Earhart, while others potentially may even have been better flyers. Amelia well deservedly rose to fame, but it is unfortunate that most have never heard of Jacqueline Cochran or Bessie Coleman who have fascinating stories of their own.
She was a champion of women’s rights:
- Among other things she advocated for, after she completed her solo trans-Atlantic flight she commented that her flight proved that men and women were equal in “jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness, and willpower.”
Amelia became friends with Eleanor Roosevelt:
- After her 1932 solo trans-Atlantic flight, the two met and became friends. Eleanor was inspired to sign up for flying lessons by Amelia, but never ended up following through with the plans.
The U.S. Government spent nearly $4M searching for her:
- This was at the time the most expensive air and sea search in history that lasted about 3 weeks. There are still privately funded searches that have gone on to this day.
Relentlessly pursue your passions
If you are truly passionate about something, you should be dedicating a lot of your time and energy towards it.
It is understood these days that not everyone is passionate about their job or career. However, if you pursue your passions on the side, you never know what kind of opportunities may arise.
Amelia Earhart was working as a social worker and was involved with some aviation groups on the side when she got the call to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic.
Use Your Platform to Promote Just Causes
Amelia could have easily taken her newfound celebrity status and ran off with it for personal gain. However, she had much greater plans to promote gender quality and show women that anything is possible.
While most will never end up being a celebrity, this doesn’t mean that you don’t have the power to influence the people you surround yourself with. Always keep that in mind.
Familial Support should be considered
During Earhart’s higher earning years she would send money to help support her mother and sister who did not have as lucrative careers.
If you are close with your family, it may be wise to consider whether at some point in the future you may need to help out and support them, whether that be siblings, parents, etc.
As medical costs rise, many of our parents may not have enough saved up to deal with aging related medical costs, or even long term care.
Life is an Adventure, Go Out and Find Yours!
Amelia Earhart truly embraced how life is an adventure and can end at a moment’s notice. Adventure can mean different things to different people, however, don’t put off your adventure for some other day. There is no guarantee that it will ever come.
Amelia disappeared (and maybe died) while doing something she loved, isn’t that what anyone could ask for?
“Everyone has oceans to fly, if they have the heart to do it. Is it reckless? Maybe. But what do dreams know of boundaries?
– Amelia Earhart
I hope you all enjoyed your brief history lesson. There are inspiring historical figures all over the history books, you just need to search for them 🙂
If you enjoy these types of posts check out the previous ones I’ve done on over in the History Annex!
Passionate about history too? Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear feedback!
The Sound of Wings: The Life of Amelia Earhart; by Mary Lovell
Amelia Earhart: Aviation Pioneer; by Roxanne Chadwick