Amelia Earhart (1897-1937), an aviation pioneer and early 20th-century symbol of female empowerment, has become an iconic character in the ongoing campaign for gender equality around the globe. Famed for her livewire personality and trailblazing pursuits in aviation, Earhart is regarded as a celebrated heroine who devoted her life to empowering the lives of other females, and her iconic status was cemented in a fashion like no other.
Amelia Earhart is famous for being the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. An article published at the time of Earhart’s accomplishment notes that the aviator “traveled over 2,000 miles from Newfoundland [to Ireland] in just under 15 hours”.
Yet, unknown to many, Earhart’s achievements aren’t limited to her historic flight alone, the groundbreaking pioneer also set a number of other aviation records, wrote a number of best-selling novels, and also threw her star status behind the formation of an organization for female pilots called The Ninety-Nines. Earhart’s titanic achievements over the course of her life also became even more venerated after her mysterious and untimely death.
Following Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, it became increasingly likely that a female aviator would soon become the first female aviator to attempt the same feat. The story goes that in April 1928, Earhart received a life-changing phone, inviting her to become the first female passenger to cross the Atlantic in a plane.
As a passenger, Earhart already knew how to fly and had held a pilot’s license for around five years. But, one article notes that “her expertise mattered not; a transatlantic flight was presumed to be too stressful and terrifying for a member of the fairer sex”.
Regardless of the level of prejudice seemingly existent in the world of aviation in the early 20th century, Earhart agreed to be a passenger in the aircraft because aviation was her driving passion and the opportunity to cross the Atlantic, dispute not being the pilot, was too good to pass up.
With this first feat under her belt, a number of years later in 1932, Earhart had managed to engineer and finance an opportunity to cross the Atlantic on her own. So, in late May, the aviatrix took to the skies above Newfoundland and began the 15-hour flight to Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
Her journey, of course, was a roaring success and her incredible feat was celebrated by many across the western world. Reflecting on her success, Earhart once said: “Everyone has oceans to fly, if they have the heart to do it. Is it reckless? Maybe. But what do dreams know of boundaries?”
The Woman Behind the Record
Born in Kansas in July 1987, Earhart’s home life was “complicated”, with her father Samuel “Edwin” Stanton Earhart being an alcoholic, and her mother – Amelia “Amy” Earhart – living in a “constant state of disappointment and low-grade fury that married life had left her struggling for money and prestige”.
When Earhart was a child visiting the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, her mother wouldn’t let her ride a roller coaster, so the young Earhart decided to construct her own at home. Dubbed a “death trap”, Earhart’s roller coaster wasn’t the safest bit of kit out there, but the anecdote speaks volumes about the aviatrix’s drive, determination, and adventurous attitude from a young age.
Following the denouement of the First World War, aviation became wildly popular, and like many of her contemporaries, Earhart had her head firmly in the clouds. Unable to contain her passion for aviation anymore, in the early 1920s, her father paid for his daughter’s introductory lesson, and thus a star was born.
After Earhart set the record for the first female aviator to cross the Atlantic, she went on to break a number of other records. In January 1935, she become the first aviator to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii to Oakland, California.
An Untimely Death
Despite her mesmeric array of achievements, Earhart will also sadly be remembered for her untimely death. In July 1937, during Earhart’s historic attempt to circumnavigate the entire globe, the aviatrix left Lea, New Guinea, and soared off towards her next destination, Howland Island – but Earhart never arrived at Howland Island.
There are as many ideas, notions, and conspiracy theories surrounding the disappearance of Amelia Earhart as there were countless efforts to recover her body. Yet, early recovery missions were fruitless and historians have often speculated about what went wrong with Earhart’s aircraft, but information at the time suggests that Earhart ran out of fuel over the Pacific.
Although the aviatrix was declared legally dead in January 1939, Earhart’s legacy has survived long beyond her death, and her achievements continue to inspire young minds to this day.
So, next time you make a visit to London, spare a thought for the trailblazers and pioneers like Amelia Earhart who lit the way.