Amelia Earhart was born on July 24, 1897, in Atchison, Kansas, at her grandparents’ house. Soon after her birth, Amelia’s parents separated. Nevertheless, Amelia’s sister, Muriel, was born two years later. Amelia’s early years were spent with her wealthy grandparents. The two girls lived with their grandparents until Amelia was ten.
Edwin Earhart’s Troubles
Amelia’s father, Edwin, eventually took an executive job with Rock Island Railroad in Des Moines, Iowa, and reunited with Amelia’s mother, Amy. The Earhart family quickly climbed the social ladder, but it was short-lived. Edwin began to drink heavily. In 1914, his drinking drove Amy to take the two girls to live with friends in Chicago, Illinois.
Amelia Learns the Horrors of War
In 1917, Amelia entered a nursing school and witnessed the horrors of war. She served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse at a military hospital during World War I until the Armistice in November 1918. She would later say,
“There for the first time I realized what the World War meant. Instead of new uniforms and brass bands, I saw only the result of four years’ desperate struggle; men without arms and legs, men who were paralyzed and men who were blind.”
Amelia in the Sky
In the fall of 1919, Amelia enrolled as a pre-med student at Columbia University. In 1920, her parents had reunited in California. Amelia decided to leave Columbia and join them. Amelia’s love for aviation was born when her father took her to an aerial show where she got to ride in an open-cockpit flight over Los Angeles.
Amelia started taking flight lessons with Anita Snook at Kinner Field near Long Beach, California. Amelia caught on quickly and soon became an excellent pilot. In July of 1920, she purchased her first plane. It was a bright yellow Kinner airplane. She named it “The Canary.” In October of 1922, just a few years after taking up flying, Amelia began attempting to break records. She first broke the altitude record of 14,000 feet. As aviation became more and more popular, records were constantly broken as pilots pushed the limits of aviation.
Amelia Makes History (for the first time)
In 1925, Amelia took a position at Denison House in Boston as a social worker. While there, Amelia got a call that would change her life forever. On April 27, 1926, Captain Hilton Railey called Amelia to take part in a flight across the Atlantic Ocean. She would only be a passenger. Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon flew the plane, but Amelia became the first women to make the trip across the Atlantic. Amelia did not think she deserved the attention she received but was more determined than ever to make the trip herself. While in London and back in the United States, Amelia toured the country, giving lectures and speeches.
Breaking Flight Records
On May 20, 1932, five years after Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic, Amelia began her journey to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Despite eventually veering off course, she broke several records on the historic flight. Not only did she become the first woman to fly the Atlantic solo and the only person to do it twice, she also broke the record for the longest flight by a woman and broke the record for crossing the Atlantic Ocean in the shortest time. During this time, Amelia had made many important friends. She had agreed to marry millionaire publisher George Putnam and had even taken First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt on a flight.
The Ultimate (but last) Flight
In 1935, Amelia started planning for an around-the-world flight. On her first attempt she crashed during takeoff. Amelia would have to wait until her plane was repaired to try again. On June 1, 1937, Amelia Earhart and copilot Fred Noonan again set off to fly around the world. They first flew to San Juan, Puerto Rico, and then eastward toward Africa. Amelia and Fred flew to the Red Sea, to Karachi, Pakistan, and to Calcutta, India. Amelia and Fred continued to Rangoon, Bangkok, and Singapore. At Port Darwin, Australia, Amelia and Fred were able to make crucial repairs to their airplane. Amelia reached Lae, New Guinea, on June 29. They had flown 22,000 miles and had 7,000 left to go. Amelia had become an international hero, and the world was captivated by her determination. At this point, however, Amelia was said to be exhausted and may have alluded to the possibility that her copilot, Fred Noonan, was drinking. However, trouble lurked for Amelia and Fred. Shortly after Amelia left New Guinea on July 2, she sent several distress calls. While her distress calls were received, Amelia could not hear the return messages because she could not find the correct frequency on her radio. Amelia and Fred were off course and lost over the vast Pacific Ocean. They did not have enough gas to reach their target—Howland Island. Amelia and Fred would never be seen or heard from again. President Roosevelt sent nine naval ships and 66 aircraft to search the area. On July 18, the search was called off.
What Happened to Amelia?
To this day there are many theories concerning the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. Some say her plane crashed in the ocean and she drowned. Others say her plane crashed but she was taken prisoner by the Japanese, who occupied many of the Pacific Islands. Still others believe Amelia made an anonymous return to the States and lived as a housewife in New Jersey.
The world will probably never know what happened to Amelia Earhart. Nevertheless, she remains a hero and inspiration to millions across the world today.