We can learn a lot from Amelia Earhart. She faced huge obstacles but was crystal clear about her objectives, she called her marriage a ‘partnership with dual control’ and she was determined to live the life she wanted for herself. This all resonates with the way we coach at Shine.
Amelia Earhart was the first woman to ever fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932 and she became the first woman pilot in 1935 after flying solo from Hawaii to California. She said once; ”Please know that I am aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be a challenge to others.” She embarked upon her lifelong dream of flying across the world in 1937, however, her flight went missing on that trip and she was never seen again.
Amelia is Shine’s Woman of the Week.
When 10-year-old Amelia Mary Earhart saw her first plane at a state fair, she was not impressed. “It was a thing of rusty wire and wood and looked not at all interesting,” she dismissively said. It wasn’t until she attended a stunt-flying exhibition, almost a decade later, that she became seriously interested in aviation. A pilot spotted Earhart and her friend, who were watching from an isolated clearing, and dove at them. “I am sure he said to himself, ‘Watch me make them scamper,'” she exclaimed. Earhart, who felt a mixture of fear and pleasure, stood her ground. As the plane swooped by, something inside her awakened. “I did not understand it at the time,” she admitted, “but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.” On December 28, 1920, pilot Frank Hawks gave her a ride that would forever change her life. “By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly.”
Although Earhart’s convictions were strong, challenging, prejudicial, and financial obstacles awaited her, but the former tomboy was no stranger to disapproval or doubt. Defying conventional feminine behaviour, a young Earhart climbed trees, “belly slammed” her sled to start it downhill, and hunted rats with a .22 rifle. She also kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in predominantly male-oriented fields, including film direction and production, law, advertising, management, and mechanical engineering.
Earhart took her first flying lesson on January 3, 1921 and, in six months, managed to save enough money to buy her first plane. The second-hand Kinner Airster was a two-seater biplane painted bright yellow—Earhart named her newest obsession “The Canary” and used it to set her first women’s record by rising to an altitude of 14,000 feet.
One afternoon in 1928, a phone call came for Earhart at work. “How would you like to be the first woman to fly the Atlantic?” the caller asked, to which Earhart promptly replied, “Yes!”
She was asked to join pilot Wilmer “Bill” Stultz and co-pilot/mechanic Louis E. “Slim” Gordon as a passenger in a Fokker F7 named Friendship on June 17, 1928, and arrived at Burry Port, Wales approximately 21 hours later. Their landmark flight made headlines worldwide because three pilots had died within the year trying to be that first women to fly across the Atlantic.
From then on, Earhart’s life revolved around flying—to start, she placed third at the Cleveland Women’s Air Derby, later nicknamed the “Powder Puff Derby” by Will Rogers. As fate would have it, George Putnam entered her life, too. The two developed a friendship during preparation for the Atlantic crossing and were married February 7th, 1931. Intent on retaining her independence, she referred to the marriage as a “partnership” with “dual control.”
Together, they worked on secret plans for Earhart to become the first woman and the second person to fly solo the Atlantic. On May 20th, 1932, five years to the day after Lindbergh, she took off from Harbor Grace, Newfoundland, to Paris. Strong north winds, icy conditions, and mechanical problems plagued the flight and forced her to land in a pasture near Londonderry, Ireland. “After scaring most of the cows in the neighborhood,” she said, “I pulled up in a farmer’s back yard.” As word of her flight spread, the media surrounded her, both overseas and in the United States. Earhart felt the flight proved that men and women were equal in “jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness, and willpower.”
In 1937, as Earhart neared her 40th birthday, she was ready for a monumental, and final, challenge: she wanted to be the first woman to fly around the world. Despite a botched attempt in March that severely damaged her plane, a determined Earhart had the twin engine Lockheed Electra rebuilt. “I have a feeling that there is just about one more good flight left in my system, and I hope this trip is it,” she said. On June 1st, Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan departed from Miami and began the 29,000-mile journey.
On July 2nd Earhart called reported “cloudy weather, cloudy.” At 7:42 am, “We must be on you, but we cannot see you. Fuel is running low. Been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet.” At 8:45, Earhart reported, “We are running north and south.” Nothing further was heard from her.
A rescue attempt became the most extensive air and sea search in naval history. On July 19th, after spending $4 million and scouring 250,000 square miles of ocean, the United States government reluctantly called off the operation.
In 1940 the skeleton of a castaway was found on the island of Nikumaroro, Kiribati. In the 1900’s and early 2000’s scientists tried to prove that it belonged to Earhart saying that she could have spent days – maybe months – heroically struggling to survive as a castaway eating clams, turtles, fish and birds, and drinking rainwater.
Other scientists are now working upon the theory that a catastrophic series of equipment malfunctions took her off the planned route, and running out of fuel meant that the plane plummeted into the sea only 50 miles from its island destination.
Despite the mystery around her disappearance, there is no doubt, however, that the world will always remember Amelia Earhart for her courage, vision, and groundbreaking achievements, both in aviation and for women.