Everyone knows that Amelia Earhart was the first aviatrix (female pilot) to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, and that she mysteriously disappeared over the Pacific while attempting to complete a circumnavigational flight; but most people’s knowledge of her ends there. What they don’t know is that Amelia Mary Earhart was a pioneer in more than just aviation: she was an equal rights activist, a teacher, and an author, as well.
Earhart was politically affiliated with the National Woman’s Party and was an early supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment. In terms of her marriage, she informed her husband via a letter on their wedding day that she would “not hold [her husband, George Putnam] to any midaevil code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly.” She laughed off the idea of taking her husband’s surname, and indeed, Putnam soon became known as Mr. Earhart. She totally changed the playing field with everything she did, and notably supported very modern views of equality between men and women for her time period.
Amelia’s first transatlantic flight was completed in 1928 alongside Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon, having been inspired by Charles Lindbergh; because she was unfamiliar with the model of the plane, her duty was to keep the flight log. Despite her minimal participation, she was treated with the same respect and celebration as her male companions once the plane reached the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. This trip was what inspired her to take her solo flight on the same route later on in her career.
Earhart soon became a bit of a celebrity, and was able to make money off of women’s fashion items and luggage that bore her name, as well as several promotional items. More than just putting her names on the items, she also had significant input in their designs, wanting everything to be sleek, simplistic, and modern.
George Putnam, Earhart’s publicity agent after the 1928 transatlantic flight before he became her husband, helped her publish a book when she first began to rise to fame, as part of the publicity surrounding her in the late 1920s. It was marketed alongside the wide array of products bearing her name, and helped the world recognize that Amelia was more than a stuntwoman, but was also an intelligent woman who could hold her own.
Following her first transatlantic flight, as she rose to fame, she embarked on a lecturing tour across the country. After the success of that tour, she took a series of new lecture tours, alongside promoting her first book, and continuing on over the next few years. Purdue University invited Amelia to join the aviation faculty, and she was able to counsel young women on career choices and give lectures to inspire others with her love of aviation. Her passion for flying extended into her passion for inspiring young women; she loved to teach girls about their own potential, and make them understand that the limits imposed on them by men and by society did not need to dictate their lives.
The money from press tours, lecture tours, books, and merchandise went towards further funding her flying career, including competitive flying races across the North American continent. Her endeavors, while they might be viewed as “stunts” today, were very instrumental in proving to the masses that taking to the skies was no longer just for daredevils and crazy people, but that everyone and anyone could fly.
Putting her passion for aviation and her belief in womens’ rights together, Amelia helped to found the Ninety Nines, a non-profit international organization for women pilots that still runs today. Now, the organization spans thirty countries and includes over 5,000 members, as well as an Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarship Fund, a program that assists in funding flight lessons for both recreational and career-based pilots, in honor of its spearhead and inspiration.
Amelia Earhart was truly the embodiment of a Renaissance woman, from her passion for women’s rights to her tireless efforts in education and aviation alike. Up until the moment that her plane was lost over the Pacific Ocean, and even after she was officially declared dead nearly two years later, she was and has remained an inspiration to all women everywhere. She changed the way the world viewed women at a time when women themselves were discovering their true potential: she transformed the woman’s image from a passive, submissive, delicate one into one that was able to take charge, actively shape her future, and revolutionize her field.