Her Early Years
Amelia Earhart is one of the most celebrated people in world history.
Amelia Mary Earhart was born July 24, 1897, in Atchison, Kansas. Today we recognize her 125th birthday. Her father (Samuel Stanton Earhart) was a railroad lawyer and her mother (Amy Otis Earhart) was the child of a U.S. District Court Judge.
Amelia was the older sister of Grace Muriel Earhart, who was two years younger.
When Amelia was a child, she saw one of the Wright Brothers fly a plane in 1908 at the Iowa State Fair. Recounting the experience years later, she said, “It was a thing of rusty wire and wood and looked not at all interesting.” Her view would change in 10 years.
The War Years
Amelia graduated from Hyde Park High School (Chicago) in 1915 or 1916. She attended Ogontz, a girl’s finishing school in Rydal, a Philadelphia suburb. During her second year, she visited her sister Muriel in Toronto, and decided to stay there.
She received training from the Red Cross during World War I and worked as a nurse’s aide in a Canadian military hospital in Toronto, Ontario.
After the war, Earhart enrolled in Columbia University’s premed program in New York City, but she dropped out in 1920, both because her parents asked her to live with them in Southern California and because the premed classes weren’t as appealing as she’d thought they’d be.
Amelia Attends An Air Show In Long Beach
When she was 19 years old, Amelia and a friend went to a stunt-flying exhibition. A pilot noticed her and her companion, who were standing in a clearing, and dove for them. “I am sure he said to himself, ‘Watch me make them scamper . . . I did not understand it at the time, but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.” She called the incident “a personal awakening.”
On December 28, 1920, Pilot Frank Hawks gave her her first airplane ride. It changed her life!
“By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly.”
Two years later, she would receive her pilot’s license.
In the mid-1920s, Earhart relocated to Boston, where she worked as a social worker at the Denison House, an immigrant settlement home. She also continued to explore her passion for flying.
On January 3, 1921, Amelia took her first flying lesson – with pilot Neta Snook. She worked an assortment of jobs – truck driver, photographer, stenographer – to save money for those lessons.
The following year, she acquired her first plane: a bright yellow, second-hand, two-seater Kinner Airster biplane. Earhart dubbed it “The Canary.”
Off and Running
On December 15, 1921, Amelia passed the National Aeronautic Association’s tests for a pilot’s license. Two days later, she’s in Pasadena, California, competing in the Pacific Coast Ladies’ Derby.
On October 22, 1922, under the aegis of the Aero Club of Southern California, Amelia set her maiden aviation record with The Canary: an unofficial women’s record of 14,000 feet.
On May 16, 1923, Amelia becomes the 16th woman ever to be issued an international pilot’s license by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI).
On June 17, 1928, Amelia Earhart, pilot Wilmer Stultz, and co-pilot and mechanic Louis Gordon depart from Newfoundland in the Friendship, a tri-motor seaplane. They arrived in Wales over 20 hours later – making Amelia the first woman to fly across the Atlantic in a plane – and are greeted by cheering crowds.
Despite the fact that her main role during the crossing was to keep track of the plane’s log, the action earned her national attention, and Americans were enamored with the bold and modest young pilot.
Earhart reportedly remarked about all the acclaim: “Stultz did all the flying – had to. I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes,” adding, “Maybe someday I’ll try it alone.”
In the summer of 1928, Amelia teams up with publicist George Palmer Putnam to write about her fame-producing flight. It’s published under the title 20 Hrs. 40 Min., Putnam promotes her to celebrity status.
Now a national “name,” Amelia travels on a book tour across the country, endorsing products, like Lucky Strike cigarettes and Modernaire Earhart Luggage. Because she bears a resemblance to Charles Lindbergh, she becomes known as “Lady Lindy.” She also joins Cosmopolitan magazine as the Aviation Editor.
1929 to 1930
August 1929 – Earhart purchases a single-engine Lockheed Vega plane. In it, she comes in third place in the Women’s Air Derby race from Santa Monica to Cleveland.
November 2, 1929 – Amelia is a founding member of The Ninety-Nines, Inc., the first women’s aviation organization. In 1931, she will become the company’s first president, a post she held for two years, during which time she used her popularity to encourage the rise of American commercial airlines.
July 5, 1930 – Amelia breaks a new world record for women’s flying speed of 181.18 miles per hour. Amelia set seven women’s speed and distance records between 1930 and 1935.
The United States Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross for her solo transatlantic flight in 1932. Amelia was the first woman and the first civilian to receive this award. To date, only seven women have been so honored.
On February 7, 1932, Amelia Earhart married George Palmer Putnam. Putnam proposed, and Earhart refused, six times before she reluctantly said, “Yes” to the book publisher.
According to Women’s eNews, “The civil ceremony, in [Putnam’s] mother’s house on the Connecticut shore, took five minutes and, the newspapers noted, omitted the bride’s promise to ‘obey her husband’.”
Amelia Earhart and George Putnam first met in 1928, when George Putnam chose Amelia Earhart to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger.
The relationship was a success, despite Earhart’s wariness about marriage. Earhart made her historic solo crossing of the Atlantic a year later. Putnam expertly planned her public appearances and handled her meteoric rise to popularity, which included her endorsement of a line of flight luggage bearing her name and the invention of a flying suit that was featured in Vogue magazine and had loose trousers, a zipper top, and large pockets.
1932 – 1937
Amelia’s second book, The Fun of It (1932) is an informal autobiography.
May 21, 1932 – Amelia Earhart becomes the first woman to fly solo, non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean, traveling over 2,000 miles from Newfoundland in just 15 hours. She set the record five years, to the day, after Charles Lindbergh became the first male pilot to do the same.
Amelia left Wheeler Field on Oahu, Hawaii, on January 11, 1935, and landed in Oakland, California, the next day, making her the first person to accomplish that feat.
Also in 1935, she became the first woman to fly solo from Los Angeles to Mexico City.
Around the World
In a twin-engine Lockheed Electra, Earhart set out to fly around the world in 1937, with Fred Noonan, her navigator. The two struck out on their 29,000-mile trek on June 1, leaving Miami and heading east. They made several refueling stops over the next few weeks before arriving in Lae, New Guinea, on June 29. Earhart and Noonan had gone 22,000 miles at that point.
Amelia continued to make historic flights until July 22, 1937. On that date she and Noonan took off from New Guinea en route to Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean.
They were never seen again.
Her life, career, and her disappearance continue to arouse people’s curiosity 85 years later.
Britannica, Article: Amelia Earhart, by the Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Amelia-Earhart
History, Article: 1932 – May 21 – Earhart becomes the first woman to make solo, nonstop transatlantic flight, by History.com Editors, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/earhart-completes-transatlantic-flight
National Women’s History Museum, Article: Amelia Earhart, 1897 – 1937, by Debra Michals, PhD, 2015, https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/amelia-earhart
PBS, American Experience, Amelia Earhart, 1897-1937, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/earhart-timeline/
Purdue Libraries, Amelia Earhart Biographical Sketch, https://collections.lib.purdue.edu/aearhart/biography.php
Softschools, Article: Amelia Earhart Facts, https://www.softschools.com/facts/biography/amelia_earhart_facts/842/
We Are The Mighty, Article: The Only 7 Women To Receive The Distinguished Flying Cross, by James Elphick, posted on March 04, 2021, 19:03:00, https://www.wearethemighty.com/veterans/7-women-distinguished-flying-cross/
Women’s eNews, Article: Amelia Earhart Marries George Palmer Putnam, February 7, 1931, by Louise Bernikow, June 25, 2003, https://womensenews.org/2003/06/amelia-earhart-marries-george-palmer-putnam/
Harris & Ewing, photographer. (1936) Amelia Earhart in airplane. United States, 1936. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/2016882728/.
(1937) Cockpit of Amelia Earhart’s plane showing the transmitter key from which she transmitted an urgent SOS. , 1937. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/97518040/.