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Amelia Earhart
1897 - 1937
 

 


"Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace with yourself." These are the words of Amelia Earhart, one of the world's most celebrated aviators, a woman who broke records and charted new waters.

Amelia Earhart was the first child born to Edwin Stanton and Amy Otis Earhart on July 24, 1897, in Atchison, Kansas. Amelia and her sister, Muriel, who was born three years later, had a difficult childhood. Their father was an alcoholic and because he often lost jobs, the family traveled a great deal. The girls frequently missed school but still excelled academically. They enjoyed books and often recited poetry while doing their chores. Amelia and Muriel also loved sports, including basketball and tennis. Their parents encouraged them to try new things, and they did.

After graduating from high school, Amelia planned to attend college, but her plans were put on hold after she met four wounded World War I veterans on the street. After hearing of their plight, Amelia decided to study nursing. During the war, Amelia worked as a military nurse in Canada. At the war's end, she became a social worker at the Denison House in Boston and taught English to immigrant children.

Amelia enjoyed watching airplane stunt shows, which were quite popular during the 1920s. One day, after taking a ten minute plane ride, which cost $1, Amelia knew she must learn to fly. By working several odd jobs and with the help of her mother, Amelia earned the $1,000 fee to take flying lessons. Her first instructor was nicknamed "Snooky." Ten hours of instruction and several crashes later, Amelia was ready to fly solo. She made her first solo flight in 1921. Except for a poor landing, the flight was uneventful. By the next year, Amelia had saved enough money to buy a plane of her own.

During the 1920s, Amelia lived with her mother and sister in Boston and continued teaching at Denison House. Flying was merely a hobby for her at that time. However, in 1928, Amelia received a call from Captain Hilton H. Railey asking her to join pilots Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon on a flight from America to England. Although she was only a passenger, Amelia became the first woman to cross the Atlantic on a plane called the Friendship on June 17-18, 1928. A publisher named George Putnam covered the story, and in 1931, the two married.

Amelia's 1928 flight brought her tremendous publicity, and she subsequently endeavored to justify this renown. On May 20-21,1932, Amelia crossed the Atlantic on her own, establishing a new transatlantic crossing record of 13 hours, 30 minutes. Amelia was celebrated throughout Europe and the United States and received a medal from President Herbert Hoover. Several years later, Amelia became the first woman to successfully complete the hazardous flight from Hawaii to California.

In June 1937, Amelia began what was to be her final flight. Amelia and navigator Fred Noonan set out in a twin-engine Lockheed Electra in an attempt to fly around the world. They departed from Miami, Florida to South America, and then across the South Atlantic Ocean to Dakar, Africa. After crossing the Sahara desert, they flew to Thailand, Singapore, Java, and Australia. However, after departing Lae, New Guinea for Howland Island, the U.S. Coast Guard lost contact with the plane. They received a final message on July 2 at 8:45 a.m., and Amelia's tone was described as frantic.

The United States Navy searched extensively but never found a trace of the aviators or the plane. The mysterious disappearance of Earhart and her plane has raised considerable speculation throughout the years. Some believe that she and Noonan were captured and executed by the Japanese. Others speculate that President Roosevelt sent Earhart on a secret spy mission. However, none of the many theories for her disappearance have ever been confirmed. In 1939, Earhart's husband published a biography entitled Soaring Wings, in tribute to Amelia.
 


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The American aviator Amelia Mary Earhart Putnam (1897-1937) remains the world's best-known woman pilot long after her mysterious disappearance during a round-the-world flight in 1937.

Amelia Mary Earhart was born on July 24, 1897, the daughter of Edwin and Amy Otis Earhart. Until she was 12 she lived with her wealthy maternal grandparents, Alfred and Amelia Harres Otis, in Atcheson, Kansas, where she attended a private day school. Her summers were spent in Kansas City, Missouri, where her lawyer-father worked for the Rock Island Railroad.

In 1909 Amelia and her younger sister, Muriel, went to live with their parents in Des Moines, Iowa, where the railroad had transferred her father. Before completing high school she also attended schools in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Springfield, Illinois, while her father fought a losing battle against alcoholism. His failure and its consequent humiliation for her were the root of Amelia's lifelong dislike of alcohol and desire for financial security.

Amy Earhart left Edwin in Springfield in 1914, taking her daughters with her to live with friends in Chicago, where Amelia was graduated from Hyde Park School in 1915. The yearbook described her as "A.E. - the girl in brown (her favorite color) who walks alone."

A year later, after Amy Earhart received an inheritance from the estate of her mother, she sent Amelia to Ogontz School in Philadelphia, an exclusive high school and junior college. During Christmas vacation of her second year there Amelia went to Toronto, Canada, where Muriel was attending a private school. In Toronto Amelia saw her first amputees, returning wounded from World War I. She immediately refused to return to Ogontz and became a volunteer nurse in a hospital for veterans where she worked until after the armistice of 1918. The experience made her an ardent, life-long pacifist.

From Toronto Earhart went to live with her mother and sister in Northampton, Massachusetts, where her sister was attending Smith College. In the fall of 1919 she entered Columbia University, but left after one year to join her parents, who had reconciled and were living in Los Angeles.

In the winter of 1920 Earhart saw her first air show and took her first airplane ride. "As soon as we left the ground," she said, "I knew I had to fly." She took lessons at Bert Kinner's airfield on Long Beach Boulevard in Los Angeles from a woman - Neta Snooks - and on December 15, 1921, received her license from the National Aeronautics Association (NAA). By working part-time as a file clerk, office assistant, photographer, and truck driver, and with some help from her mother, Earhart eventually was able to buy her own plane. However, she was unable to earn enough to continue what was an expensive hobby.

In 1924, when her parents separated again, she sold her plane and bought a car in which she drove her mother to Boston where her sister was teaching school. Soon after that Earhart re-enrolled at Columbia but lacked the money to continue for more than one year. She returned to Boston where she became a social worker in a settlement house, joined the NAA, and continued to fly in her spare time.

In 1928 Earhart accepted an offer to join the crew of a flight across the Atlantic. The flight was the scheme of George Palmer Putnam, editor of WE, Charles Lindbergh's book about how he became, in 1927, the first person to fly across the Atlantic alone. The enterprising Putnam chose her for his "Lady Lindy" because of her flying experience, her education, and her lady-like appearance. Along with pilot Wilmer Stultz and mechanic Louis Gordon, she crossed the Atlantic (from Newfoundland to Wales) on June 18-19, 1928. Although she never once touched the controls (she described herself afterward as little more than a "sack of potatoes"), Earhart became world-renowned as "the first woman to fly the Atlantic."

From that time Putnam became Earhart's manager and, in 1931, her husband. He arranged all her flying engagements, many followed by often strenuous cross-country lecture tours (at one point, 29 tours in 31 days) for maximum publicity. However Earhart did initiate one flight of her own. Resenting reports that she was largely a puppet figure created by her publicist husband and something less than a competent aviator, she piloted a tiny, single-engine Lockheed Electra from Newfoundland to Ireland to become - on May 20-21, 1932, and five years after Lindbergh - the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.

During the scarcely more than five years remaining in her life, Earhart acted as a tireless advocate for commercial aviation and for women's rights. The numerous flying records she amassed included:

* 1931: Altitude record in an autogiro
* First person to fly an autogiro across the United States and back
* 1932: Fastest non-stop transcontinental flight by a woman
* 1933: Breaks her own transcontinental speed record
* 1935: First person to fly solo across the Pacific from Hawaii to California
* First person to fly solo from Los Angeles to Mexico

Breaks speed record for non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Mexico City to Newark, New Jersey 1937: Sets speed record for east-west crossing from Oakland to Honolulu

Honors and awards she received included the Distinguished Flying Cross; Cross of the Knight of the Legion of Honor, from the French Government; Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society; and the Harmon Trophy as America's outstanding airwoman in 1932, 1933, 1934, and 1935.

On July 2, 1937, 22 days before her 40th birthday and having already completed 22,000 miles of an attempt to circumnavigate the earth, Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared over the Pacific somewhere between Lae, New Guinea, and Howland Island. The most extensive search ever conducted by the U.S. Navy for a single missing plane sighted neither plane nor crew. Subsequent searches since that time have been equally unsuccessful. In 1992, an expedition found certain objects (a shoe and a metal plate) on the small atoll of Nikumaroro south of Howland, which could have been left by Earhart and Noonan. In 1997 another female pilot, Linda Finch, recreated Earhart's final flight in an around the world tribute entitled "World Flight 97." The event took place on what would have been Earhart's 100th birthday. Finch successfully completed her voyage, the identical route that Earhart would have flown, around the world.

 

 

 

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This web page was last updated on: 09 December, 2008