Adventurous, independent, and determined are all characteristics of America’s famous female aviator, Amelia Earhart. Her inspiration to women during her time went without being unnoticed and, to this day, encourages young women to follow their dreams.
On May 20, 1932, Amelia Earhart set off to become the first woman to fly solo, nonstop, across the Atlantic Ocean. Years later, Americans’ hearts were broken when Earhart’s plane disappeared somewhere over the Pacific in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe. According to History, her disappearance remains one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the twentieth century.
Today, we’ll take a look at Amelia’s life and how she came to be celebrated as a bold female American aviator who set numerous flying records. You can find Amelia Earhart’s timeline figure in our Timeline Collection: A Collection of Historical Timeline Figures.
Who Was Amelia Earhart?
Amelia Earhart was born in Atchison, Kansas, on July 24, 1897. As a young girl, she was characterized as a tomboy who had an adventurous spirit. She would often be found playing basketball, climbing trees, hunting rats with a rifle, and learning about cars.
From a young age, Amelia, nicknamed “Meeley” or “Millie,” was looked up to by other girls – especially her younger sister, Grace, or rather “Pidge,” as Amelia called her.
Amelia got her first taste of what it felt like to be in mid-air in 1904 when she and her uncle put together a homemade ramp that replicated a roller coaster they had seen on vacation. Though it ended with a bruised lip and torn dress, Earhart emerged with a “sense of exhilaration.” She’d later tell her sister, “Oh, Pidge, it’s just like flying!”
Although Earhart had a troubled childhood at times, she continued to keep her eyes on success with a scrapbook of newspaper clippings of influential women. After graduating high school, she attempted college but became ill with the Spanish flu, which would later cause long-term damage to her sinuses and, at times, impacted her flying.
It wasn’t until December 28, 1920, that she and her father visited an airfield where famous World War I pilot Frank Hawks would give Earhart her first-ever plane ride. Earhart would later recall, “By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground – I knew I had to fly.”
From there on, Earhart would work various jobs, including photography and truck driving, to save up $1,000 for flying lessons. By January, Earhart would receive her first flying lesson from pioneer female aviator Anita Snook. Later that year, she would purchase her first yellow airplane that she would nickname “the Canary.”
Are you looking to teach your kids about America’s most celebrated female aviator? Check out this adorable Amelia Earhart costume! Giving your kids a chance to dress up as the person they’re learning about can do wonders in helping them remember and appreciate history. For more on why dress up can help your children learn history, read our blog post Imagination + History = Dress Up.
Success and Accolades of Amelia Earhart
Earhart received her flying license in December of 1921, which set her off to earn a number of aviation records despite her relatively short flying career. Her first award was in 1922, after she became the first woman to fly solo above 14,000 feet.
Her next breakthrough would be on May 20, 1932, when she would become the first woman to fly solo, nonstop, across the Atlantic Ocean. This feat would award her the Distinguished Flying Cross by the United States Congress for her “heroism and extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.”
Later, Earhart would make the first solo, nonstop flight across the United States, and even become the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the United States. During this time, she also worked to expand opportunities for women in aviation and published several books on flying.
Amelia Earhart’s Last Flight
On June 1, 1937, Earhart set out from Oakland, California, with her navigator, Fred Noonan, in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe. On July 2, Earhart and Noonan were 7,000 miles away from completing the trip, which would put them back in Oakland, when they planned to stop and refuel at a tiny island called Howland Island.
During that time, Earhart and Noonan lost radio contact with the U.S. Coast Guard and disappeared en route. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called for a two-week search for Earhart and Noonan, but they were never discovered. On July 19, the two were declared lost at sea.
Many believe that Earhart’s plane crashed and sank as she ran out of gas, searching for the tiny island. Others believe that the two veered off course and landed on an uninhabited island called Nikumaroro. While there’s no evidence of a plane crashing on Nikumaroro Island, scientists have found Plexiglas that could have come from Amelia Earhart’s plane, as well as a woman’s shoe from the 1930s.
There are also several conspiracy theories surrounding Earhart’s disappearance, including that she and Noonan were captured and executed by the Japanese. Others say that Earhart and Noonan were spies for President Roosevelt and his administration and assumed new identities upon returning home to the United States.
Nonetheless, Amelia Earhart was never found, and her disappearance is still impossible to understand almost 80+ years later with advanced technology. To this day, Amelia Earhart’s death is considered one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the 20th century.
Looking for more 20th-century moments? Check out our 20th Century in America Lap-Pak.
Earhart’s Legacy Lives On
Amelia Earhart’s legacy continues to live on as she is remembered for her courage, independence, and persistence in defying traditional gender careers. Although her life ended at a relatively young age, she accomplished a great deal and is regarded as a heroic 20th-century female figure.
If you’d like to teach your kids about other famous Americans throughout history, take a look at our Time Traveler Studies, The Industrial Revolution through the Great Depression and World War II.
Not sure what a Time Traveler is? Read our blog post, Using Time Travelers to Teach American History!