AMELIA EARHARDT (1897-1937)
Aviatrix, Author & Absolutely Amazing Woman
“Never interrupt someone doing something you said couldn’t be done.” AE
A statue of Amelia Earhart was recently unveiled in the US Capital’s Sanctuary Hall where Amelia joins one hundred other statues (yet only 5% are women). Her seven-foot bronze statue, ten feet if you include the pedestal, sculptured by George and Mark Lundeen, will represent the state of Kansas. Her likeness, which depicts a beautiful and determined woman wearing a leather helmet, her signature bomber jacket and carrying goggles, was placed in the hall on the 85th anniversary of her disappearance.
Amelia has an impressive resume, with many “firsts.” She was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, the first woman to fly ‘solo’ across the Atlantic, the first woman to fly ‘solo’ from LA to Mexico City, the first woman to fly nonstop coast to coast, and the first woman to fly across the Red Sea to India. When she embarked on her “round the world” flight she would’ve been the first woman to do so. Sadly her plane disappeared. She was only thirty-nine. How did she accomplish all this in such a short period of time? Some credit her with spunk, fortitude and a love of adventure while others claimed it was luck, good looks and publicity that took her from a small-time pilot to an aviation pop star, one with enough start power to capture the heart of America.
When she was ten she believed that a little red plane spoke to her as it swooshed by. Was it Fly with me or You can do it too? But soon after, she was taking flying lessons and making short runs in the air. Unheard of for a woman, nothing short of miraculous for a girl. Then she captured the attention of George Putnam, a publicist who asked her if she’d like to be the first woman to fly ‘solo’ across the Atlantic. Without hesitation, she agreed. When he inquired if she’d like to be the first woman to fly ‘solo’ around the world, she was all in. She also said yes to Mr. Putnam when he asked her to marry him.
In 1937, gassed up and ready to soar into history she took off into the great blue wander in a twin-engine Lockheed Electra. The concept of a “solo” flight can be misleading; Amelia wasn’t alone on the trip, she had her navigator Fred Noonan, with her. Midway across the pacific they were scheduled to make a short stop in the Howland Islands but somewhere over the open ocean the ground crew lost radio contact with her plane. Lots of speculation arose about her disappearance. Was it planned? Did she want to escape from the hectic life she’d created? Was her plane sabotaged? A few years later, some bones were discovered on nearby Nikumaroro Island that may have offered answers. But very soon the bones were dismissed as being her remains. It wasn’t until recently when new scientific methodology revealed that the fragments found were likely that of Amelia Earhart and her navigator. Case solved? (for more information see www.ameliaearhart.com)
I comfort myself in knowing that she died/disappeared doing what she loved. Her legacy won’t be forgotten. She used her celebrity to start The Ninety-nines, a women’s aviation society. As an equal right’s advocate, Amelia believed that her “complex aviation skills proved that women could hold jobs that were mostly reserved for men; especially in careers that required intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness, and will power.” Amelia was much more than a pretty pilot with a publicist husband, she was also a social worker, a nurse, an author, entrepreneur, role model and women’s rights advocate. According to Nancy Pelosi, when you look at her statue, you “hear the sound of wings.”
To me, that sound is an audible representation of bravery and freedom. It’s the sound of a woman smashing the class celling of oppressive misogyny, patriarchy and gender stereotyping. It’s the most beautiful sound in the whole world.
While I applaud Amelia and her groundbreaking accomplishments, we have miles to go before we catch up. I love the fact that her statue replaced one that belonged to a man, simply because he met the criteria of the day: male and pale. But we can do better. Women like Amelia need to dot the landscape with the bronze matriarchy. Statues of women need to be chiseled, placed on a pedestal and memorialized. Everywhere.
Women rock. So do their statues and stories. Let’s get chiseling.