Amelia Earhart would have been 115 today had she lived through her ill-fated attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 1937. Earhart was the epitome of female inspiration in the face of seemingly impossible odds. While her disappearance remains a mystery, her iconic status still inspires women everywhere to break gender boundaries in pursuit of their dreams. Google has chosen to celebrate Earhart’s birthday with a Doodle befitting this impressive woman.
Born July 24, 1897, Amelia Earhart grew up very different from other girls of the day. Her mother didn’t believe in raising “nice little girls,” and dressed her daughters in bloomers rather then skirts. Amelia was raised in an educated environment and taught that nothing was out of her grasp, even if she was a woman. An avid reader, homeschooled until the age of 12, Amelia proceeded unhappily through public school and into university, keeping a scrapbook of newspaper clippings of women who succeeded in male-dominated fields such as law, medicine, and film. She never felt that she was challenged enough in the schools that she attended.
At the age of 10, Amelia’s first view of a plane left her quite unimpressed. The 1908 Iowa State Fair had a display of an old biplane, which Earhart later described as “a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting.” It wasn’t until she had gone to Toronto to live with her sister during World War I, acting as a Red Cross nurse, that she saw another aviation exhibit at the Canadian National Exposition. That day she saw an “ace” fly, and she was instantly hooked. Amelia took her first flying lesson on January 3, 1921, at Kinner Field near Long Beach, CA. Nearly two years later on October 22, 1922, Earhart broke the female world altitude record by flying her plane to 14,000 feet. On May 15, 1923, Earhart became only the 16th woman to ever receive a pilot’s license.
Inspired by Charles Lindbergh‘s successful solo transatlantic flight in 1927, Earhart was asked to be the first woman to achieve the a similar feat. She was billed as a pilot of the transatlantic flight in 1928, but as she had no experience flying by instrumentation alone, it was her co-pilot who did most of the flying. Despite her disappointment, she was received with a ticker tape parade upon her return and promised that someday she would do it herself. It took her another four years, but on May 20, 1932, at the age of 34, Amelia Earhart took off from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland. With nothing more then a dated local newspaper (to prove her flight’s origin), she flew solo for 14 hours and 56 minutes before she landed in a pasture in Culmore, north of Derry, in Ireland. Having been the first woman to fly transatlantic solo, Earhart received the Distinguished Flying Cross from Congress, the Cross of Knight of the Legion of Honor from the French Government and the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society from President Herbert Hoover. As her fame grew, so did her adventures. She was the first person to successfully fly solo from Honolulu, HI to Oakland, CA. Between 1930 and 1935, Earhart had set seven women’s speed and distance records and was already a household name across the country.
“Please know that I am aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be a challenge to others.” -Amelia Earhart
In 1935 she decided that her next achievement would be her grandest. She decided that she would circumnavigate the globe as close to the equator as she could manage. After a failed first attempt due to mechanical difficulties, Earhart departed for her second attempt on June 1, 1937 from Miami, FL. After numerous stops heading east she, and her crew, had finally made it to Lea, New Guinea on June 29. She had completed 22,000 miles of her journey; only 7,000 miles remained, all ocean between her and America. After a short rest to prepare for the final leg of the journey, Earhart and her crew left Lea on July 1, 1937, headed for Howland Island, some 2,556 miles away. Her last recorded location was about 800 miles into her flight. Amelia Earhart had simply disappeared. There is much speculation to this day about what could have happened to her flight — whether they had gotten lost over the sea and ran out of fuel, or if there was some other accident. There is no evidence to suspect that there were ever any problems with the flight path or the aircraft. Numerous expeditions have been launched since that fated day in an effort to find Earhart and her plane. None have been successful.
Amelia Earhart’s legacy is that of perseverance and intrigue. While her lasting fame in pop culture might be fueled by the circumstances of her disappearance, there is no doubt that during her life she was the epitome of female courage, independence and ability to stay cool under pressure. Her goal-oriented personality has been an inspiration for women across the world to pursue their dreams of entering male-dominated fields and fight for female equality in all aspects of life. Earhart inspired a new generation of female aviators, including more than 1,000 female pilots of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). These women flew training, transport and service flights during World War Two and beyond.
It’s likely that Amelia Earhart’s mystery will never fully be solved, but even if it is, her legacy will last for many years to come.