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Women who followed their dreams: Amelia Earhart

There have been women in history to which we owe most of the status we have reached today.

These reckless women who fought against countless stereotypes of their times, to deliver to us the world as we know it, pushed by no one but their courage. They were not afraid of dreaming, as there was so much to dream of during their days, so much to accomplish and so many goals to achieve. These incredible revolutionary pioneers, whose bravery changed society into a new pattern that could not be reversed, broke boundaries in fields of science, government, aviation and a lot more. They created mew opportunities for women by becoming a role model and left a lasting imprint in the minds of us all.

American suffragist Victoria Woodhull was the first woman to ever run for President of the United States in 1872. She made a fortune with her sister on the New York Stock Exchange and was one of the first women to open a Wall Street brokerage firm. Chapeau!

Amelia Earhart, the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1928, was one of them.

Amelia Earhart posing in front of the Fokker F7 Friendship, Wales UK 1928

This morning I came across some interesting news regarding one of the most mysterious disappearance and unsolved cases in the history of the aviation. 

In 1937 the plane in which Amelia Earhart was attempting her second transatlantic flight suddenly disappeared in the Pacific after 25 days of solo flight. And after two weeks of research in that area, they thought she died drowned after a plain crash and that her remains were lost to the deep waters. That’s what they assumed. However, by reading the press of the time one can clearly see that people thought she was still alive. Scientists have been trying to discover the truth about her death for decades and since Amelia was very popular in that period, even the public started giving more and more attention to this unsolved case, creating an aura of mystery around the death of the young aviatrix.

But now the TIGHAR (International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery) reports to us that the skeleton of a castaway that was found on the island of Nikumaroro in 1940 (the area where the aircraft disappeared) may belong to Amelia Earhart. And this is more than a theory, as “the morphology of the recovered bones, insofar as we can tell by applying contemporary forensic methods to measurements taken at the time, appears consistent with a female of Earhart's height and ethnic origin” the TIGHAR reported. The recovered bones would be similar to the measures of the Earhart body. And thanks to modern technologies it was noticed that the woman's arms and skeleton would be virtually identical.

“There is an entire final chapter of Earhart's life that people don't know about. She spent days - maybe months - heroically struggling to survive as a castaway," Ric Gillespie, TIGHAR's executive director told CNN on Tuesday November the 1st. 

Thinking about her energy, her bravery, her positivity towards life and with how much resistance she faced up stressful situations during her cross country’s flights, this is without any doubt an new chapter to be written about the most famous aviatrix of history! For we all know Amelia amazing adventures on her flights this makes us think about her last days all alone on that small island in the middle of nowhere and how she could survive for days and even months, like the TIGHAR assumes. 

This could be an unprecedented discovery as thanks to the forensic tools of nowadays the assumptions made in the past can be considered a clear evidence today. An impact news that makes me investigate more about the life of this pioneer aviatrix.

Looking at the world from inside the cockpit

“It has always seemed to me, that boys and girls are educated very differently ... too often little attention is paid to individual talent. Instead, education goes on dividing people according to their sex, and putting them in little feminine or masculine pigeonholes.”

— Amelia Earhart, THE FUN OF IT, autobiography, 1933

During the 1930s she was one of the world’s most celebrated aviators and a national heroin. As a woman, she dedicated herself in promoting women's opportunities both in aviation and other fields at public speaking. Women's opportunities were more limited than they are today. It was a popular thought that flying was not a lady’s activity and women taking flying lessons were frowned upon by the public. That’s why Amelia Earhart tried to fight against such stereotypes by encouraging women to become pilots. She believed women needed to be in solidarity with each other, to be happy for one’s achievement and cooperate to get the same opportunities as the men one day. She encouraged women to believe in their dreams and work hard to achieve their goals,  so that one day they would have been valued for their individual abilities.

Amelia Earhart, pioneer of the sky

Most of us may think her passion for airplanes comes from her childhood. In her book, The fun of it, she did not deny to have been somehow attracted by mechanicals things when she was a little girl. However, this is not what pushed her to fly. She has always been an adventurous soul attracted by new things: she loved exploring new places, meeting new people, playing typical men’s sports ect … She was thrilled by experimenting and involving herself in new activities.

During the Great War the streets of Toronto, were Amelia lived, were full of former soldiers without arms and legs. Shocked by this view, she decided to engage in arduous nursing duties to play her part. She used sometimes visiting the military airport apron and see the aviators coming out their planes and it’s there, in the winter of 1918 that she begun to be interested in aircraft. 

Amelia Earhart (right) with her flight instructor Neta Snook in front of Earhart's Kinner Airster, c. 1921

The war ended that year and the WWI experience was so touching for her that she decided to go to New York to study medicine. Her hobby for aviation meant still so much for her and during that period she also attended a course to learn how to repair engines, that laid the groundwork for all mechanical knowledges acquired later.  During her spare time, she loved to watch barnstormer’s show, a form of entertainment in which reckless stunt pilots used to make the craziest things in the air to attract an audience: dangerous spins, loops and the barrel roll, stall turns and wing overs. Show after show she became aware of her strong willing to learn flying. 

Although her family was wealthy, her father did not accept her wish to become an aviatrix. But Amelia was so determined to follow her dream that she found her first job at a telephone company to pay her flight lessons. She even worked as a professional photographer to earn some more money.

After her first solo flight test while she was studying for the licence, her mother understood how much Amelia cared about starting her own career in aviation and she helped her buying her first airplane, a secondhand Kinner Airster biplane which she nicknamed "The Canary”. She cut her hair short and bought a leather jacket to be taken in consideration by men as a real pilot.

On May 15, 1923, Amelia Earhart finally gained a pilot's license issued by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, though the aviation still remained an hobby for her.

The Kinner Airster biplane, “The Canary" she bought herself in 1921

This is Amelia Earhart’s first pilot’s license issued by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the governing body of sports aviation. Issued May 16, 1923

She moved to Boston, where her sister lived and worked, and she found a job as a social worker in a settlement-house.

Regarding the university, Amelia never got a degree, she attended medicine faculty in New York but she quit. She tried to study physics and she quit that faculty too. Perhaps her adventurous life and her constant curiosity for so many things in life did not allow her to concentrate on a single topic!

Amelia Earhart, pioneer of the sky

In May 1927 Charles Lindbergh made the first solo, transatlantic flight of history and the first ever non-stop flight between New York to Paris on board of his single-engine monoplane the Spirit of saint Louis. This sensational news was welcome with so much enthusiasm by the aviation that the interest grew for having also a woman flying across the Atlantic. And guess to whom was asked “Would you like to fly the Atlantic?”.

It was 1928 when Amelia Earhart was given the great opportunity to accomplish such an impressive feat that changed her life forever.  She was selected to be the first woman to fly transatlantic, as a passenger. Together with the pilot Wilmer “Bill” Stultz and the mechanic Louis E. "Slim" Gordon, they took off on June 1928 from Trespassey Harbor, Newfoundland on a Fokker F7 tri-plane model named “Friendship”. After 20 hours and 40 minutes they landed at Burry Point, Wales, in the United Kingdom. 

When the team came back to New York they were acclaimed by people in the streets with a ticker tape parade and met President Calvin Coolidge at the White House. But most of the attention was for Amelia Earhart, who became a true star. The public eye put her in the centre and wanted to know more about this pioneer woman. 

She became as popular as Charles Lindbergh that she was even given the nickname "Lady Lindy" (Lucky Lind was the nickname the press gave to Lindbergh). And, like her fellow aircraft enthusiast did, she started to write a book about this experience.  The idea of publishing Amelia’s memories of her first flight across the Atlantic came to George Putnam, who had already published several writings by Lindbergh. He thought Amelia Earhart could be seen as a potential star by aircraft amateurs as well as all the people who would recognise her a national heroin and a role model. A true bestselling story!

1928, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic as a passenger in the Fokker F7 Friendship with two male pilots.

A newspaper report of Amelia Earhart's historic flight across the Atlantic, 18 June 1928

Front page from the Wisconsin News celebrates Amelia Earhart's pioneering flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1928.

Amelia and Wilmer Stultz (pilot of the Friendship) being congratulated by Mr. and Mrs. Harry Moore after the transatlantic flight

Amelia Earhart wearing the wings presented to her in 1928 as an honorary major in the 381st Observation Squadron, U.S. Army Reserve, at Cressey Field, Presidio of San Francisco.

After this flight Amelia Earhart's love for aviation became a full time job and her main source of income. As a celebrity Amelia, together with editor George Putnam, started travelling around the US to promote the book "20 Hrs., 40 Min". Through lectures and public speaking the aviatrix used her celebrity to promote women in aviation, supporting their issues, talking about the opportunities for women to achieve their goals and the courage of taking control of their own lives. She promoted “airmindedness” at a time when most people were sceptical about airplanes as a form of transposrtation.

Like a movie star, she was also called to work as a testimonial for Transcontinental Air Transport and became the first woman vice president of the National Aeronautic Association.

In 1929 Amelia Earhart (first on left) participated in Transcontinental Air Transport’s first two-day cross-country service by train and Ford Trimotor from New York to Los Angeles. Along the way she met with Charles Lindbergh (first on right).

She modeled for woman’s fashion and became involved in developing her own lines of products (initially using her own sewing machine), aircraft apparels exclusively designed for women, which combined functionality with femininity. 

Amelia Earhart article "Try Flying Yourself" from November 1928 Cosmopolitan. This is the first article of several that Amelia wrote for the magazine.

Functional ... yet femnine.

“We are still trying to get ourselves called just pilots”, Amelia Earhart

Among all her activities she used to model for fashion magazines such as Cosmopolitan

Only a few knows that Amelia was the first celebrity to create her own clothing collection. Sold in 30 cities throughout the USA, the clothes were marketed as "the woman who lives actively."

Ninety-Nines flying suit designed by Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart Flight Coat and flying goggles (exposed at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC)

During this time, a group of women met to form an organisation for the mutual support of female pilots and advancement of women in aviation. This organisation called the Ninety-Nines was found on 1929 and Amelia Earhart became their first president.

Her hobby for flying definitely turned into a paying career.

The Ninety-Nines International Organization foundation in 1929

Amelia’s first transatlantic flight made her conquer notoriety and feast, crossing the country coast to coast promoting herself like a star. Fame came all of a sudden. She married her editor/manager George Putnam in 1931 and it came so natural to them since they were together 24 hours a day during their promotional tours across the US.  Amelia Earhart life seemed to be a fairy tale. However, she was not 100% happy with that: it was difficult for her to accept that people considered her a celebrity just for having crossed the Atlantic as a passenger (as a “sack of potatoes” like she used to say), whilst she wanted to be respected for her talent instead and fly the airplane herself!

Driven by her tenacity in being recognised as an aviatrix, she begun breaking records: in 1929 she entered the first Santa Monica-to-Cleveland Woman's Air Derby, and placed third. In July 1930 Amelia set the women's world flying speed record of 181.18 miles per hour. And in 1931, after only 15 minutes of instruction, she was the first woman to fly an autogiro, setting a world altitude record of 18,415 feet.

But the year 1932 actually brought about a breakthrough in her career. Amelia announced her willing to attempt a solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic, exactly like Charles Lindbergh did on 1927. Accordingly, on May 20 1932 she took off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, in her single engine Lockheed Vega 5B. She had planned to land in Paris, like Lindbergh did, but due to bad weather conditions she was forced to land her plane in Ireland. Anyway, it made no difference, as after 15 hours of solo flight, she became the first woman to make a solo Transatlantic flight in history. 

As for the 1928 flight, she was welcome as a brave heroin and a ticker tape parade was organised in New York City in her honour. She received the Distinguished Flying Cross from Congress, the Cross of Knight of the Legion of Honor from the French Government and the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society from President Herbert Hoover.

This nice and somewhat shy woman had just shown the world her remarkable talent and bravery.

Amelia and George Putnam, her editor and manager she married in 1931.

Group picture of 1929 first Santa Monica-to-Cleveland Woman's Air Derby where Amelia (4th on right) arrived in third positon.

In 1931 Amelia Earhart went on a test flight in an autogiro -a Pitcairn PCA-2 - and became the first female autogiro pilot in the world.

Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, 1932, Amelia poses in front of her Lockheed Vega 5B before taking off.

Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, 1932. A crowd cheers for Amelia Earhart as she boards her single-engine Lockheed Vega airplane to make her Transatlantic solo flight

1932, Amelia Earhart arrives in Culmore, Northern Ireland after her solo flight across the Atlantic after fighting fatigue and aircraft problems.

Amelia Earhart, surrounded by crowd of admirers in London after she crossed the Atlantic in 1932

1932, congratulation to the first woman to have flown solo across the atlantic

Amelia's nickname 'Lady Lindy!' on a newspaper page of the time reporting her landing after 15 hours of solo flight across the Atlantic.

Nottingham Evening Post – Saturday 21 May 1932

Pioneer aviator Amelia Earhart rides up Broadway during a raucous procession to City Hall in June 1932.

This brave and difficult trip across the Atlantic gave to Amelia the typical adrenalin of those who want to break more records. In 1933 Amelia Earhart reset her record again by repeating the flight in 17 hours, 7 minutes and 30 seconds. In 1935 she became the first pilot ever to fly solo from Hawaii to California and after 3 months she became the first person to fly solo from Los Angeles to Mexico City. And three weeks later she again soloed from Mexico City to Newark, New Jersey.

Amelia Earhart posing in front of her Lockheed Vega in 1935

January 11, 1935. Amelia is the first person to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii to Oakland, California. 

Driven by her ambition and determined to prove herself she could succeed, Amelia decided it was time to go for one of aviation's most difficult challenges: a flight around the world.

Purdue University, were she worked as a career counsellor in between flights, financed a new plane for Amelia, a Lockheed Electra 10E twin-engined airliner.  She wanted to make her biggest dream come true, as she reported in an interview of the time “… one flight which I most wanted to attempt - a circumnavigation of the globe as near its waistline as could be.”

The Lockheed Electra 10E twin-engined airliner

The cockpit of the Lockheed Electra 10E

After a failed first attempt to take off, on June 1st 1937 Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan departed from Miami, Florida with the plan of traveling from west coast to east. They completed nearly 22,000 miles of the flight, stopping in South America, Africa, India, and Lae in New Guinea. The remaining 7,000 miles would take place over the Pacific.

Amelia Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan

The next destination was Howland Island, a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific.  As the Lockheed approached Howland Island, Amelia Earhart experienced a fuel problem. She reported it by radio to the Coast Guard cutter Itasca and explained that she was low on fuel but the radio communication was very bad and only briefly established. Furthermore, Amelia and Noonan could not even find the island of Howland and even if they asked for help the Itasca could hear that they were lost but could not return communication. After several hours of frustrating attempts they lost radio contact with the Lockheed.  They disappeared over the Pacific Ocean, in the area of Nikumaroro.  The news of Amelia Earhart missing in the Pacific soon spread all over the country  and massive search for Amelia and her navigator Noonan were issued. Her husband George Putnam financed his own search, but they unfortunately did not generate any positive results. 

Many rumors begun circulating on potential scenarios of Amelia’s disappearance. Experts and researchers were firmly convinced that she was certainly perished at sea after having run out of fuel. And this is what the majority of people thought. Some of her admirers believed she was a spy and was then captured by Japanese enemies of the United States. 

Today, we are writing a new chapter on Amelia Earhart amazing life. As I explained at the beginning of this post, thanks to modern technologies, we finally know she very likely died as a cast away on the Island of Nikumaroro, were a skeleton similar to the one of Amelia Earhart was found on 1940. 

Amelia Earhart remains a symbol of the power and perseverance a woman can have, an adventurous spirit who encouraged her sisters to follow their hearts, and always dare to dream.



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