Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Earhart from The Macquarie Dictionary

1898--1937, US pilot; first woman to make a solo flight over the Atlantic Ocean; her plane disappeared while on a round-the-world flight in 1937.

Summary Article: Earhart, Amelia Mary (1897-c. 1937)
from Encyclopedia of Gender and Society

Amelia Earhart was the world’s most famous woman pilot. During her life, Earhart broke numerous aviation records and was actively involved in the advancement of women aviators. She was known for courage and determination. While attempting to circumnavigate the globe, Earhart and her navigator Fred Noonan disappeared when they were unable to spot their landing site because of poor weather conditions. What happened to Earhart and Noonan is unknown, but her achievements in aviation will not be forgotten.

Amelia Earhart was born July 24, 1897, to Stanley “Edwin” Earhart and Amy Otis Earhart in Atchison, Kansas. Amelia’s childhood was not a stable one because her father’s job as a lawyer for the railroad company was an unsteady one and her family shifted between wealth and poverty. In 1907, her family moved to Des Moines, Iowa, where her father was offered a job with a steady salary. The family was happy in Des Moines, until Edwin started drinking. Eventually, he lost his job because of alcoholism. Following another botched job attempt, the family was forced to split up. Edwin moved back to Kansas, and Amy and the girls moved to Chicago where they lived with an old family friend. After Amelia graduated from high school, she went to Ogontz College and then to Columbia University, where she was a premedicine major. It wasn’t long before Amelia realized that medicine wasn’t for her, and she joined her parents who had reconnected and moved to California.

Shortly after arriving in California, Amelia and her father went to Daugherty Field in Long Beach to see an aerial meet. At that aerial meet, Amelia developed a desire to fly, and she inquired about taking flying lessons. The next morning, Edwin accompanied Amelia to Rogers Field where he paid ten dollars for a ten-minute flight. Amelia fell in love with flying and was determined to take flying lessons even though they were expensive. Amelia got a job so that she could pay for the lessons.

When her father saw his daughter’s dedication, he helped Amelia pay for the lessons, but was leery about his daughter spending a lot of time with a male instructor. Fortunately, Amelia found a female pilot, Miss Anita “Neta” Snook, who offered flying lessons and gave Amelia her first lesson on January 3, 1921. During the next 2 months, Amelia learned the principles of flying while logging four hours of flight. Amelia soon purchased her first plane, then broke the female altitude record by reaching 14,000 feet on October 22, 1922. Her record only stood for a few weeks before it was broken, but this feat gave Amelia confidence. On May 16, 1923, Amelia applied for and became the first woman to receive a flying certificate from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

In 1924, Earhart took a break from flying when her parents divorced and she moved with her mother to Boston. Earhart’s break from flying was shortlived, however, as she joined the Boston chapter of the National Aeronautic Association and invested in Harold T. Dennison’s new airport near Quincy, Massachusetts. In April 1928, she got a call on behalf of New York publisher George Palmer Putnam about being on a flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Following an interview, Earhart was chosen for the flight and was the first woman to be flown across the Atlantic.

After that flight, Earhart wanted to break a record on her own. She started competitive flying, and in 1931, flying a Pitcairn PCA-2 autogiro, Earhart set a world altitude record of 18,415 feet. Amelia also became associated with and was eventually the president of the Ninety Nines, an organization of female pilots who advanced the cause of women in aviation.

During this time, Earhart and Putnam started spending a lot of time together. George divorced his wife and started to pursue Earhart. Though initially reluctant to enter a relationship with Putnam, Earhart eventually changed her mind, and the two were married February 7, 1931.

Earhart and Putnam planned her flight across the Atlantic Ocean, and on May 20, 1932, she succeeded in becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. For this feat, she received a gold medal from the National Geographic Society and the Distinguished Flying Cross from Congress, making her the first woman to receive this award. In the following years, Earhart continued to break records. She was the first woman to fly nonstop coast to coast; the first person to fly the 2,408-mile distance across the Pacific Ocean on January 11, 1935; the first person to fly solo from Los Angeles to Mexico City on April 19–20, 1935; and the first person to fly from Mexico City to Newark, New Jersey, on May 8, 1935.

In 1937, Earhart decided that she wanted to be the first woman to fly around the world. Her first attempt in March was unsuccessful because of plane damage. Before attempting this flight for the second time, Earhart said that she felt that she only had one good flight left in her and hoped that this is the one. Determined to fly across the world, she had her plane rebuilt, and on June 1, Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan departed from Miami to begin the 29,000-mile flight. By June 29, Earhart and Noonan were in New Guinea and only 7,000 miles away from completing her task. Her next flight to Howland Island required that she and Noonan remove all the equipment from the plane besides the essentials to give the plane approximately 274 extra miles of fuel. On July 2, 1937, Earhart and Noonan flew into bad weather. Earhart couldn’t see her landing spot and constantly radioed the coast guard ship Itasca, which was near the island to help her find the island. Amelia had problems with her radio and was last heard from when she only had two hours left of fuel and could not see the island. Earhart and Noonan were never heard from again. The government spent $4 million and searched 250,000 square miles of ocean before calling off the search in 1938. Though what happened to Amelia Earhart is not known, her advancements in flights will not be forgotten.

Further Readings
  • Backus, J. L. (Ed.). (1982). Letters from Amelia. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Chapman, S. (1997). Whistled like a bird: The untold story of Dorothy Putnam, George Putnam and Amelia Earhart. New York: Warner Books.
  • Long, E. M. (1999). Amelia Earhart: The mystery solved. New York: Simon & Schuster.
  • Lovell, M. S. (1989). The sound of wings: The life of Amelia Earhart. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
  • Deborah Santiago-Cintron
    Copyright © 2008 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

    Related Articles

    Full text Article Earhart, Amelia Mary (1897-c. 1937)
    Encyclopedia of Gender and Society

    Amelia Earhart was the world’s most famous woman pilot. During her life, Earhart broke numerous aviation records and was actively involved in the...

    Full text Article Earhart, Amelia (1898 - 1937)
    Bloomsbury Biographical Dictionary of Quotations

    Courage is the price that Life exacts for granting peace. Courage 1927 Of course I realized there was a measure of...

    Full text Article Earhart, Amelia (1898 - 1937)
    The Macmillan Encyclopedia

    US aviator, who was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic (1932) and Pacific (1935) Oceans. Her plane was lost over the...

    See more from Credo