Forget for a moment the doomed 1937 round the world flight and all of the continuing speculation that continues to this day. Set aside temporarily that Earhart was the first woman to solo across the Atlantic. Put in perspective all of her pioneering accomplishments as the world’s most prominent woman in aviation. Then settle in to read this marvelous perspective of a truly remarkable person.
Biographer Susan Butler got the Amelia Earhart story right in 1997 when she completed ten years of research and published EAST to the Dawn, The Life of Amelia Earhart. It was the sixtieth anniversary of Earhart’s fateful last flight. Of course the aviation story is extremely well told but the real story is how Amelia Earhart used her celebrity and incredible energy to universally advance the cause of women during the 1920s and 1930s.
Amelia the social worker, the world-wide lecturer on behalf of women’s rights and the establishment at Perdue University of a permanent foundation designed to advance women in the profession of aviation engineering and development. One can only imagine her further impact had not her life ended in tragedy somewhere in the Pacific trying desperately to find tiny Howland Island on the next to last leg of her round the world flight.
Amelia Earhart’s celebrity was earned. She came from Atkinson Kansas, the daughter of an alcoholic father whose many jobs took the family east and west. Her formal education was thwarted but she persisted, became a social worker and by sheer chance became exposed to aviation. Once hooked she never looked back. All along her rise to unimaginable celebrity she never once forgot that she represented professional career opportunities for all women.
Amelia earned her just celebrity and acclaim as an aviator but had she lived, understanding her as Butler’s book reflects, her contributions to society and women’s advancement would have been far greater than being the first woman to fly around the globe. Having read Butler’s book I am convinced Amelia Earhart would have unquestionably made that her lasting legacy.
In 1932 the American Women’s Association presented Margaret Sanger its first annual award. A year later the second annual award was presented to Amelia. The presentation to Amelia was made by Dr. Lillian Gilbreth, the renowned industrial psychologist. In her closing remarks, Gilbreth chose these words: Miss Earhart has shown us that all God’s chillun got wings.
This is the 80th anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s last flight.