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Throughout history, women have flown many reasons-the joy of flying, to master an exciting skill, and to achieve new goals. Among these women was Amelia Earhart, an adventurous young woman who became a famous pioneer of women fliers of the 20th century. She got her first airplane at a flying circus show in 1920 when she was 23. "As soon as we left the ground, I knew I myself had to fly," she wrote (Glines). Amelia loved flying for what she called the "fun of it" (Luckhardt). Yet she also set many new records and was eager to prove women could fly as well as men. Earhart was recognized and venerated as the symbol of power and perseverance for hundreds of thousands of women struggling for equality. As an active feminist in the masculinized world of aviation, she remained optimistic and determined throughout her life to break the stereotype of a typical woman and to prove that gender should play no role in determining one's abilities and accomplishments. By the time she was in her early 30's, Earhart was internationally recognized as the first women aviator to successfully complete a transatlantic flight. She felt self-compelled stretch her strengths toward excellence in all circumstances to prove what others had thought impossible. Courage and determination required to satisfy her simple yearn for flight proved how the power to aspire can overcome any perceived barrier.
Amelia Mary Earhart was born to Samuel Stanton Earhart and Amelia Otis Earhart on July 24, 1897 in Atchison, Kansas. In school, while her peers were learning the etiquette of proper young ladies, Earhart was engaging in activities considered only for boys with her younger sister Grace Muriel, such as climbing trees, belly-slamming down hills, and hunting for rats with a rifle (Walton). Her peers classified her as a "tomboy" for her adventurous personality. As a child, Earhart was not particularly raised in a family of strong ties and care for one another. Although she spent most of her childhood with her wealthy grandparents, Earhart's family connected with alcoholism. Like many young children, Earhart looked up to her father Samuel, a struggling railroad worker and a heavy drinker. Disappointed that her father is unable to emotionally support his children, Earhart took control to lead a better fulfilled life.
Amelia was thoroughly unimpressed when she saw her first plane at the Iowa State Fair. The ten-year-old described is as "a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting" ("Biography(1)"). Earhart's first experience with aviation was during her early 20s at an exhibition of stunt flying while serving as a Red Cross nurse's aide for soldiers returning from World War 1 in Canada. As she and her friend watched, the pilot spotted the two girls and flew in their direction. "I am sure he said to himself, 'Watch me make them scamper,'" as she stood her ground ("Biography(1)").
On December 28, 1920, professional pilot Frank Hawks offered a ride on his plane to a 23-year-old Amelia Earhart, where her opinions on aviation changed dramatically. After graduating from college, Earhart had her first flying lesson with an accomplished female instructor named Anita "Neta" Snook she specifically requested on January 3, 1921. Just a mere 6 months after her lessons with Snook, she worked more than 20 jobs, including truck driving, to save enough money to purchase a bright yellow Kinner Airster plane she named "Canary" (Glines). With that plane, she set the record to be the first women to have flown up to an altitude of 14,000 feet above the ground. On May 15, 1923, Earhart became the 16th woman to earn the pilot's license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale ("Biography(2)").
Earhart believed that a life without a college education is not inherently a destructive force, but rather a productive one. With the motivation necessary to exert her best efforts to be an asset in her community, she decided to educate herself enough to understand what she was capable of. In 1926, Earhart left Columbia University as a pre-med student to work at the Dennison House as a social worker in Boston, Massachusetts. She taught many subjects, mainly English, to the poor families who used the settlement homes' services (Reyburn 19).
In 1928, George Palmer Putnam, the publisher of Charles Lindbergh's book "We," contacted Earhart to join pilot Wilmer Stultz and mechanic Louis Gordon on their transatlantic flight (Glines). Although she would only fly as a passenger, she enthusiastically agreed. Aboard the Fokker tri-motor airplane named "Friendship," she suffered the frustration of never once during the 20 hour and 40 minute flight being permitted to touch the controls. Crowds numbering in thousands welcomed Earhart's arrival and wildly cheered as the town's policemen and a couple of friends struggled to escort "the latest popular heroine" to shelter (Raymond). Although the world of lavishly praised her courage in having made this flight, Earhart humbly pointed out, "The bravest thing I did was to try to drop a bag of oranges and a note on the head of an ocean liner's captain-and I missed the whole ship" (Fraser 189).
Earhart continued to actively promote women aviation in 1930. She flew to many different locations to publicly encourage other women in pursuing their piloting aspirations. Earhart was elected as the vice president of the National Aeronautic Association (NAA), where she convinced the organization to hold separate world records for women. She also helped organize the Ninety-Nines, an international organization "to provide closer relationship among pilots and to unite them in any movement that may be for their benefit and for that of aviation in general" (Glines). Members of the Ninety-Nines elected Earhart as the first president in 1931.
Earhart's life began to include George Putnam. After proposing 6 times, the couple married on February, 7 1931. Still a woman who valued equality very firmly, she eliminated the word "obey" from her wedding vows and referred her marriage as "partnership" with "dual control" (Glines).
After her feat of flying across the Atlantic, she was not yet content with her accomplishments. She wanted to become the second person after Charles Lindbergh and the first woman in history to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. Plans were laid with the utmost secrecy. Determined to prove she could make the Atlantic crossing by herself, Amelia took off on May 20, 1932, from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, and immediately ran into bad weather. Ice accumulated on her bright red Lockheed Vega's wings and at one point the weight of ice forced her into a 3,000 foot uncontrollable descent. She did finally manage to gain control of the plane when the warmer air near the ocean's surface cleared the ice, but it wasn't until 14 hours and 52 minutes of having fought heavy storms and terrible fatigue that landed in a field in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, 2026 miles from her starting point. She was, of course celebrated upon her return. Upon her completion in June 21, 1932, she was greeted by President Herbert Hoover, who presented her the gold medal from National Geographic Society, and the U.S. Congress, who awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross for her achievement. She was the first woman to receive such an honor (Reyburn 23). However, instead of basking in admiration she prepared her second flight, the first woman's solo non-stop transcontinental hop.
During her preparations, she began routinely setting and breaking speed and flight records. Earhart, in the same Vega, took off from Los Angeles, California on the following year August 24. Nineteen hours and five minutes later, she landed in Newark, New Jersey having covered 2,448-mile distance. In July 1933, she flew from coast to coast in just over 17 hours, breaking her previous transcontinental speed record by. In January 1935, she became the first fly solo from Hawaii to the west coast. In April, she became the first person ever to fly solo from Los Angeles to Mexico City. In May, she became the first person to fly solo and nonstop from Mexico City to Newark, New Jersey (Morris).
Following these events, Earhart worked at Purdue University as a career counselor, advising the engineering school on aeronautics and providing advice on career opportunities to young women. In July 1936, the Purdue Foundation helped Earhart purchase a Lockheed Electra E-10 ("Aviators: Amelia Earhart's Autogiro Adventures"). While waiting for the manufacturer to finish building the plane, Earhart began planning for her world flight that was "left in her system" ("Biography(1)"). Although Wiley Hardeman Post, a famed air pioneer, had already circumnavigated the globe, he had only done so on northern latitudes, and no one yet circled the earth at or near the equator. To increase her safety margins for the trip, she planned to fly from east to west. In March 1937, she started the trip with her Electra flying in Oakland, California and headed to Honolulu, Hawaii. She planned to head farther west, however, she had severely damaged her plane when she tried to take off from Honolulu. Her plane was sent to the Lockheed Repair plant, cutting her plans to the west (Morris).
On May 21, 1937, Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, departed for their second attempt to fly around the world in her Electra. Noonan and Earhart had reached Lae, New Guinea in late June of that year and their next destination was Howland Island. Despite the hazards of the flight so far, the biggest aviation challenge was to fly 2,556 miles across the South Pacific ("Miss Earhart Forced Down at Sea, Howland Isle Fears; Coast Guard Begins Search"). To increase the odds of reaching Howland Island, Earhart cleared her plane of all unnecessary contents to make room for extra fuel on the plane. Earhart and Noonan left New Guinea on July 2, 1937. Noonan had reported having trouble setting his chronometers, time pieces whose accuracy is essential in determining longitudinal measurements during navigation over water. But ignoring Noonan's misgivings, Amelia Earhart and her navigator took off from New Guinea on July 2 and headed west. The Itasca, a United States Coast Guard vessel stationed at sea near Howland Island, received radio messages from Earhart and Noonan reporting strong headwinds and heavy fuel consumption. A final fragmentary message was received indicating that the Lockheed Electra was off course, lost. Then no further messages were received and the radio was silent ("Miss Earhart Forced Down at Sea, Howland Isle Fears; Coast Guard Begins Search").
Years after her mysterious disappearance, the hopeful search for Earhart still continues today. The United States Government and Putnam financed over 4 million dollars to seek for clues during their expedition. Researchers believed that she may have lived as a castaway during her record attempt to fly around the world at the equator. The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) executive director Richard Gillespie recently recovered handmade tools, a collection of animal bones, and a jar of cosmetic cream that suggested Earhart did not disappear but survived on an inhabited tropical island. Gillespie continues the search, believing that solving the mystery will "keep her alive and keep her inspiring," something that would please Earhart (Siegel).
Amelia Earhart is an internationally famous figure admired not only for her accomplishments in the field of aviation and for women, but for her broad vision in life and strength to transcend the normal standards. Rather than preventing the seemingly insurmountable challenges, Earhart embraced them as the stepping stones for future actions. By succeeding major goals in a career that was traditionally reserved for men, she opened eyes to what the world has been offering all along and left a legacy for other women to follow. "Women must try to do things as men have tried," she said, "when they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others" ("Biography(1)").