Women’s History Month – Amelia Earhart

For the month of March, the world celebrates Women’s History Month. I am devoting a week each in March to one woman I am inspired by. 

For this week, I am devoting the week to Amelia Earhart.

Amelia Mary Earhart was born on 24th July 1897 to Samuel “Edwin” Stanton Earhart and Amelia “Amy” Earhart (nee Otis) in Atchison, Kansas. She was nicknamed Meeley or Millie, even answering to it well into adulthood. 

Amelia’s mother did not believe in raising her children to be “nice little girls” and allowed them to wear bloomers. However, her maternal grandmother disapproved of the “bloomers” they wore, and although Amelia liked the freedom of movement they provided, she was sensitive to the fact that the neighbourhood girls wore dresses. Amelia was characterised as a tomboy as a child. In 1904, with the help of her uncle, Amelia cobbled together a home-made ramp, fashioned after a roller coaster she had seen, and secured the ramp to the roof of the family toolshed. Amelia’s well-documented first flight ended dramatically. She emerged with a bruised lip, torn dress and a “sensation of excitement”. She had been noted as saying, “Oh, it’s just like flying!” 

Amelia had a terrible childhood with her father becoming an alcoholic and having to move around, and auction their house to pay for their debts. Throughout her childhood, she had continued to aspire to a future career. She kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in predominantly male-oriented fields, including film direction and production, law, advertising, management and mechanical engineering. 

During 1917, she visited her sister in Toronto. World War I had been raging and Amelia saw the returning wounded soldiers. After receiving training to be a nurse’s aid, she began work with the Voluntary Aid Detachment at Spadina Military Hospital. Her duties included preparing food in the kitchen for patients with special diets and hanging out prescribed medication at the hospital’s dispensary. It was here that she heard stories from military pilots and developed an interest in flying. 

In 1918, the Spanish Flu reached Toronto. Amelia became a patient, experiencing pneumonia and maxillary sinusitis. During the pre-antibiotic era, Amelia underwent multiple operations to wash out the affected maxillary sinus but it did not work. Chronic sinusitis will affect Amelia’s flying and activities later in life, and sometimes when on the airfield she was forced to wear a bandage on her cheek to cover a small drainage tube. 

In 1920, Amelia and her father attended an aerial meet in California. She asked if she could be on a passenger flight which cost $10 for 10 minutes. She said, “By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly.” 

Amelia had her first lesson on 3 January 1921 at Kinner Field on the west side of Long Beach Boulevard and Tweedy Road, now in the city of South Gate. Her commitment to flying required her to accept the frequent hard work and rudimentary conditions that accompanied early aviation training. To complete her image transformation, she also cropped her hair short in the style of other female flyers. In 1921, Earhart purchased a secondhand bright yellow Kinner Airster biplane, which she nicknamed “The Canary”. 

On October 22, 1922, Amelia flew the Airster to an altitude of 14,000 feet, setting a world record for female pilots. On May 16, 1923, Amelia became the 16th woman in the United States to be issued a pilot’s license (#6017) by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI). 

After Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927, Amy Guest expressed interest in being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. After deciding that the trip was too perilous for her to undertake, she offered to sponsor the project. It was then that Amelia was asked. 

Due to her lack of training of the instruments used, she did not pilot the aircraft. Once they landed, she said, “Stultz did all the flying – had to. I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes. Maybe someday I’ll try it alone.” 

Publisher George Putnam, a recently divorce, proposed to Amelia six times before she finally said yes in 1929. She referred to her marriage as a “partnership” with “dual control”. In a letter written on her wedding day, she wrote, “I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any medieval code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly. I may have to keep some place where I can go to be by myself, now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinement of even an attractive cage.” 

Her ideas on marriage were liberal for the time, as she believe in equal responsibility for both men and women in marriage. 

Early in 1936, Amelia started to plan a round-the-world flight. Even though others had flown around the world, this flight would be the longest at 29,000 miles because it followed a roughly equatorial route. 

Amelia and Fred Noonan departed Miami on 1 June 1937 after numerous stops in South America, Africa and the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, arrived at Lae, New Guinea on June 29, 1937. Most of the flight had been done, with only 7,000 miles to be completed over the Pacific. On 2 July 1937 at 10 in the morning, they took off from Lae Airfield in the heavily loaded plane. Their intended destination was Howland Island. The expected flying time was 20 hours, so accounting for the two hour time zone difference between Lae and Howland and crossing the International Dateline, the aircraft was expected to arrive at Howland the morning of the next day, 2 July. 

Around 3pm Lae time, Amelia reported her altitude as 10,000 ft but that they would reduce altitude due to thick clouds. Around 5pm, she reported her altitude as 7,000 ft and speed as 150 knots. Their last known position report was near the Nukumanu Islands, about 800 miles into the flight. 

Amelia and Fred disappeared that day, with no sign of their wreckage found despite years of searching. Many reports have turned up over the years of different stories but none have been verified. 

Amelia Earhart disappeared 2 July 1937 and was declared dead 5 January 1939. 

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