The Lioness Project: Amelia Earhart

Chances are, you know her. She’s a modern icon and an enduring mystery. But it is not her still-unsolved 1937 disappearance that places her among our lionesses; it’s her spirit, determination, and daring.

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act.
The rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers.
You can do anything you decide to do.”
—Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart

Young Amelia Earhart had high aspirations—she collected newspaper clippings of women who were successful in male-dominated fields and she wanted to study science, but her father was an alcoholic and her family struggled. Her yearbook caption called her “the girl in brown who walks alone.” After working as a nurse for returning WWI vets, she caught pneumonia and suffered from chronic sinus troubles ever after. But then, in 1920, her family visited an airfield and she took a 10 minute plane-ride. After that, she knew she had to fly. She worked for a year to save money for flying lessons, and took the bus to the end of the line and then walked four miles each way to the airfield. After six months, she purchased a secondhand biplane, and in 1922 she used it to set a world altitude record for female pilots.

In 1924, her family suffered more financial difficulties, and Amelia had to sell her plane.  She moved to Boston, where she worked as a teacher and then as a social worker. She also joined the American Aeronautical Society, promoting flying every chance she got, and in 1928, she received a call asking if she would like to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, though due to the type of plane and navigation required, she wasn’t able to pilot the plane herself. After the flight she referred to herself as “just baggage, like a sack of potatoes,” but added, “. . . maybe someday I’ll try it alone.” And she did, in 1932, after many solo flights and more records.

In 1936 she began planning her infamous round-the-world-flight.  Though not the first, it would be the longest, following the equator. She and her navigator, Fred Noonan, departed from Miami on June 1, 1937, and traveled west to east. The last 7,000 miles was over the Pacific Ocean. On July 2, they left Lae, New Guinea for the tiny sliver that was Howland Island. Overcast weather, problems with radio communication and a damaged antenna spelled disaster, and they never arrived. The official search lasted until July 29, but they found nothing. She was declared dead January 5, 1939, at the age of 41.

There have been numerous theories on what became of Amelia Earhart, but nothing conclusive. Though she did not complete her flight, her memory has inspired generations.

 

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