Perhaps the most famous pilot of all time, bridging the gaps between the male and female gender, was Amelia Earhart. She was born to her parents Amy Otis and Edwin Earhart in Atchison, Kansas on July 24, 1898. Amy was an athletic and strong-willed mother who came from a prominent local family. Edwin was a tall man; the wise son of a local minister. Amelia s father worked as a claims adjuster for railroads a job which required constant travel around the country.
As a child Amelia suffered from many common childhood illnesses such as typhoid fever and diphtheria. She made it through the illnesses and became a bright, creative, and mechanically minded child known for making chicken traps, dangerous ramps for her sled, and even building a backyard roller coaster from scraps of wood. At the young age of ten Amelia saw her first plane at the lowa State Fair, where she watched a young pilot perform tricks in a beaten up old biplane, “It was a thing of rusty wire and wood,” she later recalled.
But Amelia was not interested in the plane in the least and left the fair with a new hat made of a peach basket which she purchased for fifteen cents. Amelia had no idea that in a few years she would leading the way to modern aviation as a form of transportation and even helping women in gaining new opportunities in the male dominated field of aviation. Amelia s father received a promotion in 1909, which lead to more stress in his already busy life. He began drinking heavily and this put a huge strain on his family life. By the time Amelia was a teenager the family had separated. Amelia went to live in Chicago with her mother and sister Muriel where they had family friends. She graduated from Hyde Park High School in 1916 and unsure of her future went to live with Muriel in Toronto, Canada.
In Toronto Amelia volunteered to be a nurses aid in World War I and continued to do so until the end of the war in November 1918. Amelia and Muriel moved to North Hampton, Massachusetts to specialize in their studies, Muriel attended Smith College and Amelia opted rather for private lessons in music and automotive repair. But her parents were trying to glue back their relationship and Amelia thought that she could help it along by going out to Los Angeles where they were living. It was in Los Angeles that Amelia found her love the airplane and the feeling of flying.
At twenty-three years old Amelia took her first ride in an airplane and that was all she needed. She later wrote in her memoirs that she knew it was her calling to fly,” I think I d like to fly ! told my family casually that evening, knowing full well I d die if I didn t.” Amelia heard about a female pilot who offered lessons on how to fly and to pay for the lessons she took up a job at the local phone company. Amelia knew that she would learn quicker from a strong female pilot and was pleased when she met Neta Snook. Neta was twenty-four, owned a rebuilt Canadian Canuck biplane, and taught out of Kinner Airport. “Snooky” as she was commonly called, was quickly becoming famous for being the only female pilot in Southern California to give lessons and carry passengers. Neta took Amelia on as a student, which proved to form a bond between the pilot and the soon to be star.
In July of 1920 Amelia purchased a prototype of an airplane being developed at the Kinner Airport for two thousand dollars and nicknamed it “the Canary,” because of the yellow colored sheet metal which covered it. She had several accidents during this period, but considering the unreliability of planes in those early days of aviation, many of them could have been attributed to the slowness of the planes. Neta had uncertainties over Amelia s skill as a pilot, a feeling that would later be held be many of Amelia s contemporaries.
In October of 1922 Amelia proved Neta wrong and broke the women s altitude record by reaching fourteen thousand feet. Amelia eventually sold her beloved “Canary” and bought a car which she nicknamed “the Yellow Peril.” With this car Amelia drove her mother Amy across country to Boston. It was in Boston that the unsuspecting Amelia would receive a call that would once again change her life. In the fall of 1925 Amelia took a job at the Dennison House in Boston as a social worker and later was promoted to staff manager.
She joined the Boston Chapter of the National Aeronautic Association, and invested what ever money she had in a company that was building an airport in Boston that marketed Kinner airplanes. During her stay in Boston she took advantage of the cultured city to promote aviation especially to the female population. She was regularly the subject of articles in the Boston Globe which called her “one of the best women pilots in the United States.” In 1927 a then unknown pilot, Charles Lindbergh made the first non-stop solo air flight across the Atlantic Ocean. After his flight aviation was popularized and Lindbergh became “Lucky Lindy.” The following year an American living in London organized a flight to give a women the chance to fly across the Atlantic.
A panel of experts in America interviewed many women but ultimately chose Amelia for her intelligence, self-confidence, and straightforward demeanor. She wrote ecstatically to her friend, “When a great adventure s offered you-you don t refuse it, thats all.” The twenty hour flight left Newfoundland with pilot Bill Stutz, mechanic Slim Gordon, and Captain Amelia Earhart.