“I did not understand it at the time, but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.” Ten-year-old Amelia Earhart watched with wonder as the first plane she’d ever seen soared overhead. Though she may not have fully known then, that plane—its nature-defying heights and captivating power—embodied what Earhart wanted for her life. It just so happened, the plane would also be her vessel, her platform, to throw off the ties of convention and to lead a charge for herself, for women, and for the world.
Never the dainty Victorian doll that her mother had hoped to raise, Earhart hardly blinked at the criticism she received for simply being herself. If the boys could do it, heaven help her, so could she. Her motivation was strong from an early age, and she filled page after page of her scrapbook with clippings of stories of successful women. Their achievements drove her to soar—if women were climbing to succeed in predominantly male-oriented fields, why couldn’t she?
“Never the dainty Victorian doll that her mother had hoped to raise, Earhart hardly blinked at the criticism she received for simply being herself.”
By her 25th birthday, Earhart had saved enough money, earned by driving a gravel truck to and from construction sites (much to her mother’s dismay), to pay for flying lessons and her own plane. She was now a pilot—a feat that itself was to be lauded. Women had won the suffrage fight, and Amelia Earhart was just one of the many brave women determined to redefine limits and expectations of the gender.
In the wake of the famed Lindbergh flight—the groundbreaking event in aviation as the pilot flew solo across the Atlantic for the first time—publisher and promoter, George P. Putnam, went on a search to find a new story, the story of a female flyer, a “Lady Lindy” to replicate the event. And he found that in pilot and future wife, Amelia Earhart.
Though delighted to become the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air, Earhart was careful not to take the worldwide credit for the journey. She noted that she was merely the log keeper, a passenger, as males flew the plane across the waters below. But the world watched in wonder anyway. She was a hero amongst women and men alike, a glimpse of new heights in the lows of the Depression. But Earhart wanted to truly earn that honor. She pushed the limit with confidence, entering air derbies and pioneering new flights.
“I think I’m ready for the transatlantic hop.” She decided to make the journey on her own.
The date of this hallmark flight fell five years after Lindbergh successfully flew over the Atlantic waters. Ten people had died attempting the run since then, and even her mechanic only believed she had a long shot of surviving the trip. But Earhart took that one-in-a-hundred chance, soaring over deadly waters below, and landed safely in the fields of Northern Ireland to the cheers and applause of the nations. She was the first woman, the second person, to pilot a plane solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
“Though of humble beginnings, upon her landing she was an embodiment of progress to the people—the progress of technology, of worldwide relations, and of the Woman.”
Though of humble beginnings, upon her landing she was an embodiment of progress to the people—the progress of technology, of worldwide relations, and of the Woman. In her position, she knew her platform to crusade for all women, and her work inspired women to look up at their own possibilities. She flew all over—the Pacific, the Atlantic, cross-country. The world was no less hers than it was anyone else’s, and she saw that because of the perseverance it took to reach that vantage point.
As she neared her 40th birthday, Amelia Earhart prepared to embark on what she decided would be one final “good flight.” She would attempt what most wouldn’t have the courage to consider—she would attempt to fly around the entire globe, navigating along the Equator. The journey was grueling, navigation was difficult, and weather conditions harsh beyond what she and her team had experienced. With less than 7,000 miles to her planned final destination, radios lost communication with Earhart’s plane.
Though the fate of that final flight has yet to be fully evidenced, that 27,000-mile trip still hangs in the atmosphere today. From the time she first climbed into a cockpit as a young woman, she knew that changing the world—her world and the world beyond—had many potential dangers. And the world she left behind still sees the benefits and rewards of her determination, her courage, her vision, and her grit in all endeavors.
Her physical journey had ended, but her legacy is one to be revered for ages. Her passion was pure, her focus was unrelenting, and in a final letter to her husband, she noted quite clearly that the journey that is thought to have taken her life was indeed worth taking.
“Please know that I am quite aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be a challenge to others.”
Hers was an investment in a life of uncompromising commitment.