Amelia Earhart’s Journey: From Tomboy to Transatlantic Trailblazer

photo Amelia Earhart sitting on plane main

Amelia Earhart (1897-1937) captivated the nation with her daring spirit and remarkable achievements in aviation, leaving behind a legacy shrouded in mystery. Growing up as a spirited tomboy, young Amelia wasn’t initially fascinated by planes. It wasn’t until after World War I that she discovered her passion for flying. Under the guidance of Neta Snook, another trailblazing female aviator, Amelia quickly began setting records. Her fame skyrocketed as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger, and she even formed a close friendship with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Amelia’s ambitious attempt to circumnavigate the globe tragically ended in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean in July 1937, where she vanished, leaving an enduring enigma.

Early Years 

Amelia Mary Earhart was born on July 24, 1897. Her father, Samuel, was a railroad lawyer. Her mother, Amelia, came from a well-off family. Amelia’s sister Muriel Grace was born two years later. Grace would live until 1998. The two sisters were very close.

Amelia was born in Atchinson, Kansas. Her family moved around a lot while she was growing up. Her father struggled with alcoholism. She eventually graduated high school in Chicago.

Her adventurous spirit arose at a young age. She was a tomboy, enjoying climbing trees, sledding, and playing basketball. Amelia enjoyed science, an earlier beneficiary of STEM education. She also took an automobile repair course

She attended college multiple times but never completed her studies. 

Interest In Aviation 

Amelia first saw an airplane when she was about ten years old. She was not impressed at the “thing of rusty wire and wood,” which “looked not at all interesting.”

Amelia visited her sister in Canada during World War I and became a nurse’s aide. Her time in Toronto was when she began her interest in planes, watching pilots in the Royal Flying Corps train at a local airfield.

Amelia took her first plane ride in 1920 with World War I pilot Frank Hawks. “By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly,” she later recalled. 

Training To Be A Pilot 

She began to take lessons with Neta Snook, a pioneer women aviator. 

Amelia worked different jobs (including photographer, truck driver, and stenographer) to raise $1000 for flying lessons. She bought her first plane, a yellow secondhand biplane nicknamed “The Canary.” She received her license in December 1921. 

Amelia took off running (flying). She flew in the Pacific Coast Ladies’ Derby two days after receiving her license. Amelia started to make a name for herself,  becoming the first woman to fly solo above 14,000 feet. She received her international pilot’s license in 1923.

Transatlantic Flight 

She took a break from flying in the mid-1920s. Amelia became a teacher and social worker in Massachusetts. She continued to be an advocate of flying and women pilots.

George Putnam, a publisher, released a blockbuster autobiography of Charles Lindbergh, the famous pilot. He helped promote the story of the first woman passenger on a transatlantic flight (with two male pilots). Yes, that woman was Amelia Earhart, and it made her famous.

George Putnam and Amelia Earhart later married. Amelia was wary about traditional marriage, refusing his proposals six times. She insisted on a marriage that was a true partnership. 

A Famous Pilot 

Amelia became a celebrity, including writing an autobiography of her exploits. She promoted the growth of American commercial airlines. She went on speaking tours around the country. 

Amelia helped found The Ninety-Nines, an organization for female pilots. The name arose from the first ninety-nine charter members. She was its first president. 

She set the women’s flying speed record (181.18 miles per hour). She would set seven women’s speed and distance records in the next five years. She flew solo across the Atlantic in 1932.

Amelia received multiple awards from the U.S. and France for her flight across the Atlantic. She later was the first woman who flew solo across the United States and back. 

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt became a friend. Amelia flew Eleanor in her plane. President Roosevelt, however, talked his wife out of receiving flying lessons. 

She flew this dangerous route in 1935. The distance was longer than her flight from the United States to Europe. 

Round The World Flight 

Her dream was a flight around the world. She chose Fred Noonan as her navigator. The first attempt took off from California. They aborted the trip after an accident in Hawaii.

The second attempt took off from Miami beginning on June 1, 1937. It would be a 27,000 mile flight with multiple fueling stops. The radio operator did not go along this time.

They flew to South America, across the Atlantic to Africa, then east to India and Southeast Asia. They reached New Guinea on June 29. Amelia and Fred had seven thousand more miles to reach Oakland, California. The next stop was Howland Island, a tiny Pacific Island. 

They flew a twin-engine Lockheed Electra.

What Happened to Amelia Earhart? 

Howland Island was about 2,600 miles away. It was about a twenty-hour flight. 

Two brightly lit U.S. ships were available to mark the route. A U.S. Coastal Guard cutter, the Itasca, was near Howland to supply communication and navigation support. 

Amelia and Fred were not able to locate the island. They notified the Itasca that they were running out of fuel. The plane lost radio contact. It was July 2, 1937.  

Amelia’s last transmission: “We are running north and south.” 

No additional sign of Amelia Earhart or Fred Noonan would ever be found.

Lost At Sea 

President Roosevelt authorized a massive search. George Putnam also financed a private search. Neither was successful. Amelia and Fred were declared legally dead on January 5, 1939. 

Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan officially crashed into the Pacific Ocean. 

Or Not?

Others have their own theories. Did they crash land on another island? Were they American spies? Did the Japanese capture them? Were they executed? Survive under new identities? 
We still do not have conclusive evidence of what exactly happened. Meanwhile, Geraldine ‘Jerry’ Mock made Earhart’s dream a reality by flying across the globe solo in 1964.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.