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Amelia Earhart

(1897 to 1937)

Amelia Earhart6 was, and by most accounts still is, the world’s most famous woman pilot. Born in Atchison, Kansas, she caught the flying bug at the age of 23, when her father paid $10 for her first airplane ride. She began taking flying lessons from female aviator Neta Snook in January 1921, and bought her first plane soon after. The following year, she set the altitude record for women flyers — 14,000 feet — at the Air Rodeo in Pasadena, California.

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"I lay no claim to advancing scientific data other than advancing flying knowledge. I can only say that I do it because I want to." ~ A young Amelia Earhart (George Palmer Putnam Collection of Amelia Earhart papers, Courtesy of Purdue University Libraries, Karnes Archives & Special Collections)

Considered a dangerous and daring avocation for any woman during the 1920s, flying became Earhart’s passion and she excelled at it. Ahead of her time as a supporter of women’s rights, she accepted an invitation in 1928 from publisher George Palmer Putnam to become the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean as part of a three‐person crew in a Fokker F7 named Friendship. The crossing won her national fame, and the press dubbed her “Lady Lindy” as the first woman to fly nonstop across the Atlantic since Charles Lindbergh’s record-setting flight a year earlier.

In 1929, Earhart co‐founded the Ninety‐Nines Inc., an international organization of women pilots that exists yet today to promote aviation opportunities for women. She married friend and flight promoter George Putnam in 1931, but didn’t settle down to a quiet, domestic life.

Continuing to enter air races and pursue more records, Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic, broke the woman’s nonstop transcontinental speed record twice, and became the first pilot — man or woman — to solo from Hawaii to California. This also made her the first person to fly solo across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.7

Her awards were many, including the Army Air Corp Distinguished Flying Cross and the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society. She was also named America’s Outstanding Airwoman, awarded the Cross of Knight of the Legion of Honor by the French government, and given honorary membership in the National Aeronautic Association.8

In 1935, Earhart was appointed Purdue University’s career counselor to women’s studies and special advisor in aeronautics. She purchased a Lockheed Electra aircraft with a grant from Purdue and began to plan what was to be her final record-setting endeavor: the first flight around the world by a woman.

Earhart’s courage and her dedication to advancing opportunities for women were summed up in a letter she left for Putnam in case the flight would be her last: “Please know I am quite aware of the hazards,” she wrote. “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 but a challenge for others.”