Today is the 115th birthday of American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart. Earhart (“air-hart“, I made that mistake once and it was a tad embarrassing in polite conversation…) was one of the most celebrated female aviators of the twentieth century, a renowned writer, and a supporter of the equal rights movement in her spare time.
Earhart first rose to prominence as an aviatrix in the 1920s, and soon earned herself a reputation in competitive flying. In 1922 she demonstrated that she could give the gentlemen fliers a run for their money by setting the world altitude record at 14, 000 feet (quite a feat for 1922). She is most famous for her record-breaking flights across the Atlantic – in 1928 she became the first woman to fly across the pond, and then in 1932 she became the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo (and also the first woman to fly the over the big blue twice). Her aviation achievements did not go unnoticed, as she was the first ever woman to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross in the same year. 1933 proved to be a big year for Earhart too, when she was the first woman to complete a non-stop transcontinental flight across the United States. Earhart didn’t stop there though, she also set records for flying autogyros and speed. She also flew solo between Hawaii and California, California and Mexico and then on from Mexico to New Jersey in 1935.
Earhart was also something of a poster girl for aspiring aviatrices across the world, and reached out to her fan base with her appearances on radio and tv as well as her writing. Earhart was an editor for the chic women’s magazine Cosmopolitan, a role which she used to promote women’s rights and to encourage women to enter the field of aviation, which was at the time very male-dominated. She became something of a motivational role model for young women across the globe, as she encouraged them to believe that they could do anything a man could… including flying planes. Earhart’s inspirational celebrity had a great influence on the new generation of aviatrices, who filled the ranks of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (the WASPS) who delivered planes to airfields throughout World War II (much like our own female pilots in the Air Transport Auxiliary ferried aircraft for the Royal Air Force).
Amelia Earhart’s story has one of the most mysterious endings of all time… in 1937 she set off to set the record as the first woman to fly solo around the globe, but she went missing near Howland Island in the Pacific Ocean. Earhart has never been found, nor has any sign of her plane come to light. There are many, many theories about exactly what happened to Earhart in the Pacific, but whatever happened in 1937, she has remained one of the most celebrated women of the twentieth century. She truly is the stuff of legend.