July 24 celebrates the birth of Amelia Earhart, a record-setting American pilot who helped lead the advancement of women in aviation.
Born in Kansas in 1897, Earhart at a young age began to challenge social standards set for women of the time. She liked to roughhouse with boys and was fond of bicycling, basketball and tennis. She was fascinated by all things mechanical and—to the chagrin of any rat in her family’s barn—had taught herself to be a crack shot with a rifle by the age of 9.
In 1920, she got the chance to take her first plane ride. It lasted only 10 minutes. But that was enough to set her mind on a life of flying. Two years later, she owned her own plane—a yellow aircraft she called The Canary—and had set a new world record for female pilots by flying to 14,000 feet.
In 1928, Earhart was asked to sit in on a flight across the Atlantic—Charles Lindbergh had been the first to make the trip the year before. She didn’t pilot the mission, but she was assigned to the flight log and became the first woman on a flight across the Atlantic.
Four years later, she became the first woman to pilot across that great expanse of the Atlantic. She made the solo nonstop flight from Newfoundland to Ireland in about 15 hours, braving strong winds, ice and mechanical problems along the way.
France—her original flight destination—gave her the Legion of Honor award for her efforts. The U.S. Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross. And President Herbert Hoover presented her with the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society. Later that year (1932), she also became the first woman to make a solo nonstop flight across the U.S.
As Earhart’s popularity with the public grew, she used her status to help change the way society viewed women. She gave lectures, wrote articles and worked with women’s groups.
She was the first president of the Ninety-Nines, an organization of women pilots devoted to promoting flying for women. She even developed her own line of clothing “for the woman who lives actively.” And in 1935, she started working part time at Purdue University as a career counselor for young women. She kept flying, of course, and even set five new flying records that same year.
In 1937, Earhart set out to fly around the world with her navigator, Fred Noonan. The two took off in June and made it from Miami to New Guinea in 21 days. When they took off again, they were headed for a small island in the Pacific Ocean. July 2 was the last time anyone heard from the two. The U.S. Navy did a massive search, but nothing conclusive was ever found. And to this day, no one knows for sure what happened.
But what we do know is that Earhart made a positive impact. She helped broaden ideas about how we see each other, and she served as an inspiration to women (and men) all over the world. From all of us here at Infinite Energy, happy Amelia Earhart Day.