The Legacy of Amelia Earhart
Amelia Earhart. Source: (history.com)
One of the most famous female aviators, Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean as well as the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland. But it wasn’t just her flying records for which she achieved fame. Her disappearance during an attempted flight around the world in 1937 is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the twentieth century.
She was born Amelia Mary Earhart on July 24, 1897 in Atchison, Kansas, the daughter of a railroad lawyer and an heiress. Even at a young age, Earhart’s interests lay in traditionally male-dominated fields, including basketball and auto repair. Due to her father’s alcoholism, the family experienced financial difficulties after the death of Earhart’s grandparents; however, her mother’s inheritance allowed Earhart to attend the Ogontz School in Rydal, Pennsylvania, having graduated from Chicago’s Hyde Park High School in 1916 . Her education was cut short in 1918 when she left college to become a Red Cross nurse’s aide in Toronto during the first world war.
It was during this time that Earhart developed an interest in aviation as she spent a considerable amount of time watching the Royal Flying Corps train at a local Toronto airfield. After the war, she briefly attended Columbia University in New York City as a pre-med student but left in 1920 to move in with her parents who were living in California at the time. She took her first ever airplane ride in December of that year and began taking flying lessons in 1921 with female flight instructor Neta Snook, working as a file clerk for the Los Angeles Telephone Company to pay for the lessons. Later in 1921, Earhart bought her first plane, a secondhand Kinner Airster which she nicknamed “the Canary.” She passed her flight test in December 1921, earning a National Aeronautics Association license, and two years later, received an international pilot’s license.
She set her first record in 1922 as the first woman to fly solo over 14,000 feet. However, it was her 1932 solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean, departing from Newfoundland, Canada on May 20 and landing near Londonderry, Northern Ireland the following day, which led to her becoming an international celebrity. She was the second person, and the first woman, to complete this feat. Later the same year, she became the first woman to complete a solo, nonstop flight across the United States, departing Los Angeles and landing in Newark, New Jersey, nineteen hours later. Then in 1935, she became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland.
In addition to breaking numerous aviation records, Earhart was also instrumental in advancing opportunities for women in the field of aviation. In 1929, she helped form and became the first president of an international organization called the Ninety-Nines, which promoted opportunities for female pilots. In 1933, she came out with a functional clothing line designed for active women.
On June 1, 1937, Earhart, accompanied by her navigator, Fred Noonan, departed from Oakland, California, on what would have been a trip around the world. They flew 22,000 miles, making several stops along the way to refuel, before landing in Lae, New Guinea, on June 29. They had 7,000 miles left to complete their 29,000-mile journey. On July 2, they departed Lae, headed towards their next refueling stop on Howland Island. But they never made it there. Earhart was in contact with the U.S. Coast Guard cutter, Itasca, during the journey and radioed that they were running out of fuel. In her last radio transmission which occurred about an hour later, she stated that they were “running north and south.” Earhart and Noonan were never heard from again. After an extensive two-week search, the two were officially declared lost at sea on July 19, 1937.
Over the years, numerous theories have arisen regarding what became of Amelia Earhart. The U.S. government concluded that they crashed into the Pacific Ocean. However, several expeditions have tried and failed to locate any wreckage from the plane. Another theory suggests that they veered off-course and landed on Gardner Island, 350 miles southwest of Howland Island. Gardner Island, which is now called Nikumaroro, was uninhabited at the time. Navy planes which flew over the island a week after Earhart’s disappearance did notice signs of habitation but found no evidence of a plane. If this theory is correct, then it is likely that Earhart and Noonan lived for some time as castaways on the island. Several expeditions launched since 1988 have uncovered artifacts supporting this theory. Not to be outdone, conspiracy theorist came up with a few ideas, including one that claimed Earhart and Noonan were captured by the Japanese and another alleging that they were spies for the Roosevelt administration and returned to the U.S. with new identities. There is, however, no evidence supporting either claim.