Amelia Earhart and Other Female Explorers
This Saturday marks the birthday of Amelia Earhart. A remarkable aviation pioneer, this woman set flying records, wrote best-selling books, and was instrumental in the formation of an organisation of female pilots. In today’s blog, we’ll honour her life. Plus, highlight some other incredible female explorers.
Born in Kansas in 1897, Amelia Earhart wasn’t raised to be a “nice little girl”. Instead her mother allowed her and her sister to run around in “bloomers” and have many adventures in the neighbourhood. These escapades included climbing tress, hunting rats with a rifle, and sledding. Thus, her first taste of flight was in a homemade wooden ramp secured to the roof of a toolshed.
Throughout her childhood, Amelia was inspired by successful women in predominantly male-oriented fields. These careers included: film direction and production, law, advertising, management, and mechanical engineering.
Taking to the Skies
In 1920, Earhart visited an airfield in Long Beach where a ride would change her life for ever.
“By the time I had got three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly”
And as soon as she touched the ground, she worked to do just that. By working a variety of jobs, Earhart was able to save $1,000 for flying lessons. The first of which happened in 1921 with pioneer female aviator Anita “Neta” Snook.
While she trained, she set out to look the part. She chose a leather jacket and cropped her hair short in the style of other female flyers. Six months after her first lesson, she purchased a second hand bright yellow plane nicknamed “The Canary”.
Originally, Amy Guest expressed interest in being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. However, after deciding it was too perilous a trip, she offered to sponsor “another girl with the right image”. Up until now, Amelia Earhart worked in Massachusetts selling plans and promoting flying in local newspaper columns. Her local celebrity led to the fateful call in 1928: “would you like to fly the Atlantic?”
Unfortunately, she was just along for the ride as it was the male pilot who did all the flying. Nevertheless, the trip projected Amelia into fame. These celebrity endorsements helped her finance her flying. Additionally, she accepted a position as associate editor at Cosmopolitan magazine.
What’s more, following this Atlantic flight — Earhart set up to create her own flying career. By August 1928, she became the first woman to fly solo across the North American continent and back. From here, she began flying competitively and went on to set world records in altitude. It was during this time she became involved in The Nighty-Nines — an organisation of female pilots proving moral support and advancing the cause of women in aviation.
Amelia Earhart would complete her solo Transatlantic flight in 1932.
In 1937, Amelia Earhart set up to fly around the world. This was her second attempt after a tire blowing quickly ended her first. She set off from Oakland and planned to land in Honolulu for the first leg of the trip. Her last known position was near the Nukumanu Islands about 800 miles into the flight.
The cause of this disappearance is unknown, nor is there much evidence for what may have happened. Some theories include:
- Crash and sink.
- Landed on Gardener Island.
- Captured by the Japanese military.
- A myriad of myths, legends and claims such as Amelia being a spy or assuming a new identity.
Whatever happened, Amelia Earhart goes down in history as a remarkable aviator and explorer.
Other Female Explorers
Alongside Amelia Earhart stand other remarkable pioneer women.
- Sarah Winnemucca. A Native American who was a translator between other Indigenous tribes. She forced crowds to acknowledge the mistreatment of her people.
- Nelly Bly. A journalist who expose the horrifying conditions at Blackwell Island Insane Asylum. Additionally, she broke the fictional record of travelling the world in 80 Days.
- Gerinde Kaltenbrunner. An expert mountain climber who became the first woman to cli all of the world’s 8000+-meter peaks without the use of oxygen.
- Dian Fossey. Her groundbreaking work with primates promote understanding and protection for these social, gentle creatures.
- Bessie Coleman. The first black female pilot in the world. She had to travel to France for flying skins as she was banned in the US due to the colour of her skin.
- Valentine Tereshkova. This Russian astronaut was the first woman in space.
- Isabella Bird. Because of her contributions to travel literature, she became the first female explore to be inducted into the Royal Geographical Society of London.
- Jeanne Baret. Disguised as a man, Baret became the first woman to circumnavigate the Earth.
- Gertrude Belle. A remarkable writer and archaeologist who championed for relics and antiques to be kept and preserved in their home nations.