Amelia Earhart

Lived:July 24, 1897—January 5, 1939 (aged 41)
Career:Aviation pioneer and author
Party:National Woman's Party

Amelia Mary Earhart was an American aviation pioneer and author. Earhart was also affiliated with the National Woman's Party and was an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment.

Earhart was born on July 24, 1897, in Atchison, Kansas. Due to her father's occupation as a legal representative for various railroads, the family moved frequently during her childhood, living at times in Kansas City, Des Moines, St. Paul, and Chicago. Earhart graduated from Chicago's Hyde Park High School in June 1915.

Earhart entered Ogontz School near Philadelphia in 1916. The following year, after visiting her sister Muriel in Toronto over Christmas, Earhart decided not to return to Ogontz School and graduate, but instead to remain and join the war effort in Toronto by becoming a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse at the Spadina Military Convalescent Hospital. While in Toronto, she began frequenting a local air field, and soon became fascinated with flying. Following the Armistice in November 1918, she returned to the United States and entered Columbia University as a pre-medical student in the fall of 1919. Earhart soon realized that the practical aspects of medicine did not appeal to her and left Columbia in 1920 to join her parents in Los Angeles.

In December 1920, she took her first ride in an airplane with pilot Frank Hawks. In January 1921, she began taking flying lessons from Anita "Neta" Snook. With help from her family, she took a job in a telephone company and bought her first airplane. In 1922, she set her first aviation record with an unofficial women's altitude record of 14,000 feet under the auspices of the Aero Club of Southern California. In May 1923, Earhart acquired her airline pilot's license. She was the first woman, and seventeenth pilot, to receive a National Aeronautic Association pilot's license.

Following her parents' divorce in 1924, Earhart sold her airplane and bought a Kissel roadster car she called the "Yellow Peril" and she and her mother moved in with Earhart's sister Muriel, in Medford, Massachusetts. After undergoing a sinus operation to relieve her chronic sinus headaches, Earhart returned to Columbia University for the winter of 1924-1925. In May 1925, Earhart returned to the Boston area. From June to October, she worked as a companion in a hospital for mental diseases. In 1926, she joined the staff of Denison House, Boston's oldest settlement house, as a social worker. She joined the Boston chapter of the National Aeronautic Association and in 1928 was elected vice president of the chapter.

In April 1928, Earhart received a call from Hilton H. Railey asking if she would like to be the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air. Earhart accepted the proposal and accompanied pilot Wilmer Stultz and mechanic Louis "Slim" Gordon on their 1928 transatlantic flight on the "Friendship" plane. She soon gained international acclaim for being the first woman to make the transatlantic crossing by air, although she did not fly the plane herself. Following the "Friendship" flight, Earhart wrote her first book, "20 Hrs. 40 Mins," and took a job as aviation editor for Cosmopolitan magazine.

In 1929, Earhart competed in the Powder Puff Derby, the first national Women's Air Derby race, finishing in third place. She was appointed assistant to the general traffic manager at Transcontinental Air Transport with special responsibility for promoting aviation to women travelers. Earhart and several other women pilots founded the Ninety-Nines, the first women pilots' organization. In 1930, Earhart set the women's flying speed record of 181.18 mph and acquired her transport pilot's license. She became the first woman to fly an autogiro in the United States and became vice president of Ludington Lines, a commercial airline. In February 1931, Earhart married publisher George Palmer Putnam. Earhart acquired an autogiro and set an altitude record for the autogiro in April. She completed a solo transcontinental flight across the United States in an autogiro in the summer of 1931 and was elected the national vice president of the NAA, the first woman officer of the NAA. Earhart was also elected the first president of the Ninety-Nines in 1931, and served in this position until 1933.

In May 1932, Earhart became the first woman (and second person) to fly solo across the Atlantic. With this flight, she became the first person to cross the Atlantic twice by air nonstop, setting a record for the fastest Atlantic crossing and the longest distance flown by a woman. She was awarded the Army Air Corps Distinguished Flying Cross by U.S. Congress, Honorary Membership in the British Guild of Airpilots and Navigators, and the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society, which was presented to her by President Herbert Hoover. In July, she set the women's record for the fastest non-stop transcontinental flight, flying from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey. She wrote her second book, "The Fun of It," and began lecturing across the country. She was awarded the Harmon Trophy as America's Outstanding Airwoman, the Cross of Knight of the Legion of Honor by the French government, and received honorary membership in the National Aeronautic Association.

In 1933, Earhart participated in the National Air Races. The following year, she launched a fashion house to manufacture and market clothing designed by her. In 1935, Earhart became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the American mainland, landing in Oakland, California. With this flight, she became the first person to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean and the first person who had flown solo across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. That same year, she became the first person to fly solo from Los Angeles to Mexico City, by official invitation of the Mexican government.

In the fall of 1935, Earhart joined the faculty of Purdue University, serving as a counselor in the study of careers for women and an advisor in aeronautics. In July 1936, Earhart acquired a new Lockheed Electra airplane she called her "Flying Laboratory" and began seriously planning a world flight at the equator.

In March 1937, Earhart made her first attempt to circumnavigate the globe at the equator, flying westward from Oakland to Hawaii. Unfortunately, her plans were thwarted when she attempted a takeoff from Luke Field and ground looped her plane. The plane was badly damaged and had to be sent to California for repairs. On June 1, Earhart began her second world flight attempt, this time taking off from Miami with navigator Fred Noonan, and reversing her course from west to east. After completing 22,000 miles of the flight, Earhart and Noonan departed from Lae, New Guinea en route to tiny Howland Island. They experienced radio and weather difficulties and eventually lost radio contact with the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca on July 2, 1937. Despite a massive search authorized by the U.S. government, no trace of Earhart, Noonan or their plane was ever found. On July 18, the government abandoned its search, although George Putnam continued to finance his own search until October 1937. In 1939, Earhart was declared legally dead.