Earhart, Amelia, 1897-1937

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1897-07-24
Death 1937-07
Birth 1897
Death 1937
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

Amelia Mary Earhart (AE) was born on July 24, 1897, in Atchison, Kansas, the first daughter of Amy (Otis) Earhart and Edwin Stanton Earhart. Her sister, Grace Muriel, was born three years later. The family moved several times (to Kansas City, Kansas; Des Moines; St. Paul; Chicago) during AE's childhood as her father tried unsuccessfully to establish a profitable legal career. AE graduated from Chicago's Hyde Park High School in 1916. ESE's increasing reliance on alcohol and his inability to hold a job led eventually to a divorce, in 1924.

In addition to attending a variety of schools (Ogontz School in Greenfield, Pa., Columbia University, Harvard University), and experimenting with numerous areas of study (e.g., pre-med, French poetry, physics) and types of jobs (e.g., wartime nurses' aide in Toronto, telephone company worker, photographer), AE developed an interest in the relatively new field of aviation. While living in Los Angeles she took flying lessons from Neta Snook, pioneer woman pilot, and in 1921 made her first solo flight and bought her first airplane.

After her parents' divorce AE moved with her mother to Medford, Massachusetts, where Muriel was teaching. She taught English to immigrant factory workers and in 1926 became a social worker and resident at Denison House, a Boston settlement. During these years she continued to fly at local airfields and in 1927 was offered, and accepted, the opportunity to accompany Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon on their 1928 flight to England. She thereby became the first woman to make the transatlantic crossing by air, and an instant celebrity.

Intensely competitive, AE participated in numerous air races and held a variety of speed records and "firsts": she was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic solo (1932) and first person to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Oakland, California (January 1935), and from Los Angeles to Mexico City (April 1935). AE was a mentor of other women pilots and worked to improve their acceptance in the heavily male field of aviation. In 1929 she helped organize the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of licensed women pilots (with 99 charter members) and served as its president until 1933. Married in 1931 to publisher and publicist George Palmer Putnam (GPP), AE still maintained her grueling nationwide lecture tours, which largely financed her flying, served as women's career counselor at Purdue University, and wrote books and articles on women and aviation. An outspoken advocate of women's equality, AE also designed sportswear for women, luggage suitable for air travel, and travel stationery.

AE made two attempts to fly around the world in 1937. The first, in March, ended when her airplane was badly damaged on take-off in California. On June 1 she took off from Miami with navigator Fred Noonan, intending to fly around the equator from west to east. On July 2, having completed 22,000 miles of the trip, AE and FN took off from Lae, New Guinea, for Howland Island. They never reached the island. Despite an intensive search by the U.S. Navy and others, following radio distress calls, no trace of the fliers or their plane has ever been found.

The numerous AE biographies include Mary S. Lovell's The Sound of Wings: The Life of Amelia Earhart (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989), Doris L. Rich's Amelia Earhart: A Biography (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989), and two by her sister, Muriel Earhart Morrissey ( Courage is the Price: The Biography of Amelia Earhart, Wichita, Kan.: McCormick-Armstrong Publishing Division, 1963; and, with Carol L. Osborne, Amelia, My Courageous Sister: Biography of Amelia Earhart, Santa Clara, Calif.: Osborne Publisher, 1987). Jean Backus has edited a collection of AE's letters, based on the Amy Otis Earhart Papers, also in the Schlesinger Library ( Letters from Amelia: An Intimate Portrait of Amelia Earhart, Boston: Beacon Press, 1982). For other biographical sketches, see Notable American Women: 1607-1950 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971), and Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. XXII, Supplement Two (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958).

From the guide to the Papers, 1835, 1885, 1897-1977, (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute)

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Subjects:

  • Transatlantic flights
  • Air pilots--United States--Biography
  • Air pilots--Biography
  • Flight
  • Aeronautics
  • Commemorative postage stamps
  • Women air pilots
  • Women in aeronautics

Occupations:

  • Air pilots

Places:

  • Atchison, KS, US