Amelia Mary Earhart (1897-1937) – An eight-cent air mail stamp issued in 1963
Born in Kansas, Amelia Mary Earhart lived in Iowa and Minnesota before graduating from high school in Illinois. She did a semester of work at a small college in Pennsylvania then went to Canada to work in a military hospital during World War I. It was there that she met aviators and developed her lifelong love of flying.
Yet Earhart’s peripatetic ways continued, for it was not easy for a young woman of that era to see herself as an aviator, let alone understand how to systematically accomplish that goal. She spent a year on the fringes of Smith College, where her sister studied, and then enrolled at Columbia University, but soon was across the nation at the University of Southern California. It was this move to Los Angeles that turned out to be salient to her life, as it brought her first airplane ride. Earhart immediately set about learning to fly and soloed for the first time in June 1921.
With money she earned by working as a telephone operator, she bought a plane for her twenty-fifth birthday. A crash only a few months later did not diminish her enthusiasm, but family finances nonetheless meant that Earhart had to revert to traditional women’s work. She moved back to her sister in Massachusetts, worked as a teacher of English to immigrants and lived at the Denison House—a long established settlement house that was an important influence on the lives of immigrant women and especially the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union. But Earhart was not a teacher or social worker, either by training or by inclination. She was instead again trying to force herself into the stereotyped molds available to women, and this effort did not prevail.
The Putnam publishing firm, seeking an opportunity to expand on the public enthusiasm for Charles Lindbergh’s transcontinental flight a year earlier and looking for a woman to make a second flight distinctive, settled on Earhart after she was mentioned by Bostonians who knew of her interest. Thus, on June 17, 1928, Earhart—as passenger, log-keeper, and standby pilot—set off from Newfoundland with two men, a pilot and a mechanic.
When they landed in Wales, the world’s attention focused on this “Lady Lindy,” and almost overnight she went from settlement house worker to celebrated pilot. Earhart quickly became a public darling whose reputation far exceeded those of other women who did dangerous “barnstorming” in the era’s popular flying exhibitions. A propensity for understatement and humor, added to her cute blond curls, made Earhart a public relations dream; the era’s flappers saw her as the epitome of the liberated woman, while their parents pointed to her Midwestern modesty, common sense, and traditional manners.
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