This article is part of our celebration of Women’s History Month where we feature stories of remarkable women who have shaped our world. In this article, we give tribute to Amelia Earhart, known as the first female aviator to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
24 July 1897 – 5 January 1939
Amelia Earhart (1897-1939) was an American pilot who broke boundaries in her record-setting career, becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She was also an author, lecturer and feminist icon in a life cut short by her flight’s disappearance on a round-the-world journey in 1937.
Born in Kansas, Earhart finished high school in Chicago and attended the Ogontz School in Pennsylvania where she was voted Vice President of her class. She left in 1918 to become a nurse’s aide caring for World War I wounded in Toronto, Canada. She briefly enrolled at Columbia University but moved to California in 1920 to join her parents at their insistence. There she developed an interest in aviation, buying a plane in 1921 and earning her pilot’s license. She paid for her lessons, from a female instructor, through work for the Los Angeles Telephone Company.
Earhart moved to Boston and worked at the Denison House, teaching English to immigrants. However, she remained active in aviation. In 1928, she was selected by promoters to become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She flew from Newfoundland to Wales on June 17-18, 1928, becoming an immediate celebrity. Earhart published a book about her journey that same year, and she eventually married her publisher George Putnam.
Earhart continued pushing boundaries. In 1929 she helped found a female piloting organization known today as the Ninety-Nines. She accomplished a repeat transatlantic flight in 1932 from Newfoundland to Northern Ireland and published another book. In 1933, she introduced a clothing line for active women. Two years later, she made the first solo flight from Hawaii to California in just over 17 hours. She also became the first person to fly solo from Los Angeles to Mexico City.
Aiming to fly around the world with Fred Noonan as navigator, Earhart departed Oakland, California in March with a prolonged stop in Hawaii for repairs. She departed Hawaii on May 21, this time heading east and making over 20 stops, including in San Juan, Dakar, Calcutta and Bangkok. Sadly, Earhart and Noonan disappeared after a final stop in New Guinea on July 2. Her next-to-last transmission to a U.S. Coast Guard ship indicated that the plane was low on fuel. Despite an extensive search, no trace of the plane or aviators was found.
Earhart’s final flight is an enduring mystery; searches have continued for the aircraft even eight decades after she disappeared, and different theories contest the official explanation of a crash into the Pacific.
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