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Earhart, Amelia, 1897-1937

 Person

Dates

  • Existence: July 24, 1897 - 1937

Biographical Information

Amelia Mary Earhart was born on July 24, 1897, in Atchison, Kansas, to parents Amy Otis Earhart and Edwin Stanton Earhart. Her sister, Muriel, was born two and a half years later. Due to Edwin’s occupation as a legal representative for various railroads, the family moved frequently during Amelia’s childhood, living at times in Kansas City, Des Moines, St. Paul, and Chicago. After attending six high schools in four years, Earhart graduated from Chicago's Hyde Park High School in June 1915.

Earhart entered Ogontz School near Philadelphia in 1916. The following year, after visiting her sister Muriel in Toronto over Christmas, she decided not to return to Ogontz School and graduate, but instead to remain and join the war effort in Toronto. In February 1918, Earhart left Ogontz School and moved to Toronto to become a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse at the Spadina Military Convalescent Hospital. While in Toronto, she began frequenting a local airfield, and soon became fascinated with flying. Following the Armistice in November 1918, she returned to the United States and entered Columbia University as a pre-medical student in the fall of 1919. Earhart soon realized that the practical aspects of medicine did not appeal to her, and left Columbia in 1920 to join her parents in Los Angeles, in an effort to help keep their marriage intact. In December 1920, she took her first ride in an airplane with pilot Frank Hawks. In January 1921, she began taking flying lessons from Anita (“Neta”) Snook. With help from her family, she took a job in a telephone company and bought her first airplane. In 1922, she set her first aviation record with an unofficial women’s altitude record of 14,000 feet under the auspices of the Aero Club of Southern California. The following March, Earhart appeared as one of the attractions at a local air rodeo and in May 1923 she acquired her airline pilot’s license. She was the first woman, and seventeenth pilot, to receive a National Aeronautic Association pilot’s license. She became engaged to Sam Chapman and worked in a photography studio. Despite Earhart’s efforts, her father's alcoholism, combined with her parents’ inability to manage money, eventually led to the divorce of Edwin and Amy Earhart in 1924.

Following her parents' divorce, Earhart sold her airplane and bought a Kissel roadster car she called the “Yellow Peril.” In June 1924, she drove cross-country with her mother from Los Angeles to Medford, Massachusetts, stopping along the way to visit several national parks (1924). She and her mother then moved in with Earhart’s sister Muriel, in Medford, Massachusetts. After undergoing a sinus operation to relieve her chronic sinus headaches, she returned to Columbia University for the winter of 1924-1925. In May 1925, Earhart returned to the Boston area and upon her sister’s urging, took classes at Harvard during the summer and received a teaching license. Earhart then spent several months teaching foreign students at the University of Massachusetts (Haugen, 2009). From June to October, she worked as a companion in a hospital for mental diseases, but found the work too confining and the pay insufficient. In 1926, Amelia joined the staff of Denison House, Boston’s oldest settlement house, as a social worker. At Denison House, Earhart worked with immigrants and their children, teaching them English and educating them on local customs. Earhart joined the Boston chapter of the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) and in 1928 was elected vice president of the chapter. While working one day at Denison House, in April 1928, Earhart received a call from Hilton H. Railey asking if she would like to be the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air. Earhart accepted the proposal and accompanied pilot Wilmer Stultz and mechanic Louis “Slim” Gordon on their 1928 transatlantic flight on the Friendship plane. She soon gained international acclaim for being the first woman to make the transatlantic crossing by air, although she did not fly the plane herself. Following the Friendship flight, Amelia wrote her first book, 20 Hrs. 40 Mins. She broke her engagement with Sam Chapman, and took a job as Aviation Editor for Cosmopolitan magazine.

In 1929, Earhart competed in the Powder Puff Derby, the first national Women’s Air Derby race, finishing in third place. She was appointed Assistant to the General Traffic Manager at Transcontinental Air Transport with special responsibility for promoting aviation to women travelers. Amelia, along with Ruth Nichols and several other women pilots, founded the Ninety-Nines, the first women pilots’ organization. In 1930, Earhart set the women’s flying speed record of 181.18 mph and acquired her transport pilot’s license. She became the first woman to fly an autogiro in the United States and became vice president of Ludington Lines, a commercial airline. Her father, Edwin Earhart, died of cancer that same year. In February 1931, Amelia married publisher George Palmer Putnam in Noank, Connecticut. Earhart acquired an autogiro and set an altitude record for the autogiro in April. She completed a solo transcontinental flight across the United States in an autogiro in the summer of 1931 and that same year was elected the national vice president of the NAA (and the first woman officer of the NAA). Earhart was also elected the first president of the Ninety-Nines in 1931, and served in this position until 1933.

In May 1932, Amelia became the first woman (and second person) to fly solo across the Atlantic. With this flight, Amelia became the first person to cross the Atlantic twice by air nonstop, setting a record for the fastest Atlantic crossing and the longest distance flown by a woman. Amelia was awarded the Army Air Corps Distinguished Flying Cross by U.S. Congress, Honorary Membership in the British Guild of Airpilots and Navigators, and the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society, which was presented to her by President Herbert Hoover. In July, she set the women’s record for the fastest non-stop transcontinental flight, flying from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey. She wrote her second book, The Fun of It, and began lecturing all over the country, often speaking in two different cities on the same day. She was awarded the Harmon Trophy as America’s Outstanding Airwoman, the Cross of Knight of the Legion of Honor by the French government, and received honorary membership in the National Aeronautic Association.

In 1933 Earhart participated in the National Air Races. The following year, in 1934, Amelia launched a fashion house to manufacture and market clothing designed by her. Her first shop opened in Macy’s in New York. It was initially a success, but by the end of the year the venture was shut down. In November 1934, the Earhart/Putnam home in Rye, New York, caught fire and many of Earhart’s earliest papers burned, including poems written during childhood, letters, and stories she had been working on (Lovell, 1989). In 1935, Earhart became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the American mainland, landing in Oakland, California. With this flight, Amelia became the first person to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean and the first person who had flown solo across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. That same year, she became the first person to fly solo from Los Angeles to Mexico City, by official invitation of the Mexican government.

On September 26-27, 1934, Purdue President Edward C. Elliott heard Amelia Earhart speak at a luncheon in New York on women’s careers and he was so impressed with her talk that he asked if she would visit Purdue and give a lecture for the women students. Earhart spoke at a banquet at Purdue on October 17, 1934, and discussed "Activities for Women After College." After several talks with President Elliott, a contract was negotiated in 1935, stating that Amelia Earhart would be employed by Purdue as a visiting faculty member.

In the fall of 1935, Earhart joined the faculty of Purdue University, serving as a from the autumn of 1935 until her disappearance in July 1937 as Consultant in the Department for the Study of Careers for Women and Technical Advisor in the Department of Aeronautics for Purdue. Earhart was attracted to Purdue because at the time it was the only university in the United States with its own fully equipped airport. She was also impressed that practical mechanical and engineering training was available without discouragement to the women students on campus. At Purdue, Amelia lectured, conducted conferences with Purdue faculty and students, and initiated studies on new career opportunities for women. Perhaps most importantly, she served as an example of a successful modern woman for the female students. While working at Purdue, Amelia stayed in South Hall (later known as Duhme Hall) on campus. South Hall students vied with each other to sit at Amelia’s table during meals. Buttermilk became an overnight favorite beverage on campus because it was Amelia’s choice.

Amelia’s husband, George Palmer Putnam, first planted the idea of a "flying laboratory" airplane for research into President Elliott’s mind. In the autumn of 1935, at a dinner party at Elliott’s home, Amelia outlined her dreams for women and aviation and spoke of her desire to conduct studies on how long-distance flying affected pilots. Before the evening was over, guest David Ross offered to donate $50,000 as a gift toward the cost of providing a machine suitable for the flying laboratory. Further donations totaling $30,000 in cash and equipment were received from J. K. Lilly, Vincent Bendix, and manufacturers Western Electric, Goodrich, and Goodyear. The $80,000 formed the basis of "The Amelia Earhart Fund for Aeronautical Research." The fund’s primary objective was to enable the development of scientific and engineering data of vital importance to the aviation industry. The Earhart Fund with the Purdue Research Foundation financed Amelia’s "flying laboratory," providing funds for a new Lockheed Electra airplane specially outfitted for long-distance flights. With her new airplane Earhart began seriously planning a world flight at the equator. It was in this plane that Amelia disappeared during her world flight attempt in 1937.

In March 1937, Amelia made her first attempt to circumnavigate the globe at the equator, flying westward from Oakland to Hawaii. Unfortunately, her plans were later thwarted when she attempted a takeoff from Luke Field and ground looped her plane. The plane was badly damaged and had to be sent to California for repairs. On June 1, Earhart began her second world flight attempt, this time taking off from Miami with navigator Fred Noonan, and reversing her course from west to east. After completing 22,000 miles of the flight, Amelia and Fred Noonan departed from Lae, New Guinea en route to tiny Howland Island. They experienced radio and weather difficulties and eventually lost radio contact with the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca on July 2, 1937. Despite a massive search authorized by the U.S. government, no trace of Earhart, Noonan, or their plane was ever found. On July 18, the government abandoned its search, although George Putnam continued to finance his own search until October 1937. In 1939, Amelia Earhart was declared legally dead in Superior Court in Los Angeles. The whereabouts of Earhart and Noonan remains a mystery, and is the subject of much speculation to this day.

Citation

MSP 9, George Palmer Putnam collection of Amelia Earhart papers, Purdue Univeristy Archives and Special Collections, Purdue University Libraries.

Citation

Lovell, M. (1989). The sound of wings: The life of Amelia Earhart (1st ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press.

Citation

MSF 450, Amelia Earhart at Purdue papers, Purdue University Archives and Special Collections, Purdue Univeristy Libraries.

Citation

Haugen, B. (2007). Amelia Earhart: Legendary aviator. Minneapolis, Minn.: Compass Point Books.

Found in 18 Collections and/or Records:

Amelia Earhart at Purdue papers

 Collection — Box: 1-3
Identifier: MSF 450
Scope and Contents The Amelia Earhart at Purdue Collection (1935-2000; 1 cubic foot) documents Amelia Earhart’s arrival at Purdue University, her time there, and the efforts to memorialize Earhart after her disappearance. Types of materials include correspondence, ephemera, administrative reports, photographs, publicity materials, and speeches.

Amelia Earhart Press photographs

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: MSP 195
Abstract Two photo albums containing Associated Press and International Newsreel photographs of Amelia Earhart, along with the detailed press release information, such as date, location, and individual names. Many are pre and post-Atlantic flight, and before and during her around-the-world flight.

Collection of Amelia Earhart Related Materials

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSP 188
Abstract Legacy collection formed by various donors and purchases over the years as a supplement to the Earhart papers. Includes articles, artifacts, cassettes, clippings, correspondence, first day covers, Earhart genealogy, manuscripts, memorabilia, negatives, newsletters, papers, photographs, reports, VHS tapes, and other related items pertaining to Amelia Earhart.

Earhart items collection by Linda Klotz

 Unprocessed — Box: Communal Accessions 12
Identifier: 20160726

Edward C. Elliott papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: UA 50
Scope and Contents The Edward C. Elliott Papers (1890-1975; 22.8 Cubic ft.) document the life and career of educator and former Purdue University President Edward Elliott. The majority of the papers date from 1940 to 1960. The papers reflect the original order as they were received from Elliott and his family, and therefore have not been divided into series or subject areas. The Elliott Papers document Elliott's education and career, particularly his tenure as President of Purdue University (1922-1945),...

George Palmer Putnam collection of Amelia Earhart papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSP 9
Scope and Contents The George Palmer Putnam collection of Amelia Earhart papers (1785-1948; 31.1 cubic feet) documents the personal life, aviation career, and business activities of pilot Amelia Earhart. Types of materials include: advertisements, articles, artifacts, awards, blueprints, books, certificates, charts, commemorative coins, contracts, correspondence, data sheets, diagrams, ephemera, flight logs, licenses, maps, newspaper clippings, notebooks, notes, permits, photographs, poetry, postage stamps,...

George Palmer Putnam papers

 Collection — Box: Box 1
Identifier: MSP 20
Abstract The George Palmer Putnam papers include correspondence, news clippings, and articles related to the life of Putnam.  Also included are his will and various obituaries.

Zelda Gould collection of Amy Otis Earhart correspondence and photographs

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSP 79
Scope and Contents The Zelda Gould collection of Amy Otis Earhart correspondence documents the thoughts and feelings Amelia Earhart's mother, Amy Otis Earhart, was experiencing after the disappearance of her daughter, and then coming to terms with her fate. Topics also include World War II and the events following the war, politics and elections, current events of the era, hobbies, personal concerns, thank-you notes, among other topics. There are some newspaper clippings about Amelia Earhart among the...

Jacqueline Kruper Women in Aviation papers and rare books

 Collection — Box: 1
Identifier: MSP 187
Abstract This collection includes rare books and ephemera related to women in aviation and its pioneers. Also includes writings and book reviews by Jacqueline Kruper on women in aviation.

KCBS radio show on the disappearance of Amelia Earhart

 Collection — Box: 1 box
Identifier: MSP 191
Abstract These audio files were transferred from two reel to reel recordings of a radio show broadcast on KCBS SanFrancisco in 1960. Host Don Mosely speculates on the disappearance of Amelia Earhart.  The first file (1.02 GB) is 30 minutes, and the second file is 24 minutes. The original reels have been retained.

Lloyd E. Keck scrapbook

 Collection — Box: Box 1
Identifier: MSA 303
Abstract A scrapbook compiled in the 1930s by Purdue alum, Lloyd Everett Keck. This collection includes a glimpse into the academic, military, personal and social activities of an Engineering student while on campus from 1936-1939 as well as various aspects of his life prior to college from 1917-1936. Items included are photographs, various programs, football tickets, diplomas, certificates, grade reports, clippings, and a commencement invitation and address.

Purdue University Public Records Administrator records

 Collection — Box: Box 1
Identifier: UA 33
Abstract A small collection of personnel files and publications documenting individual staff and faculty histories with Purdue University from 1898-1988, as well as general university finances for 1942-1943.

Richard (Dick) G. Strippel Research and Writings on Amelia Earhart

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSP 204
Abstract This collection contains research and reference files, correspondence, manuscripts, publication records, photographs, and oversized materials related to the writing and publication of Amelia Earhart: the myth and the reality…

Sandor "Alex" Kvassay papers and collection of Aviation Stamps

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSP 144
Abstract This collection is primarily comprised of aviation-related stamps and first day covers from around the world. The collection spans the 20th-century but includes examples of 19th century balloon airmail.  Just a few of the countries represented are Canada, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Italy, North and South Korea, Great Britain, the United States, and Vietnam. Included are stamps from Africa, Asia, North, South and Central America, Australia, Antarctica, and many more places. ...

Wilmer and Mildred Stultz papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSP 209
Abstract The papers contain artifacts, books about Amelia Earhart, photo albums featuring the career, family, friends and lives of the Stultzes, a program from an Earhart lecture, and a shadowbox containing memorabilia from Stultz’s transatlantic flight aboard the “Friendship” with Amelia Earhart and Louis Gordon in 1928.

Wilmer Stultz papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MSP 38
Scope and Contents The Wilmer Stultz Papers (1927-1928; 0.5 cubic feet) document Wilmer Stultz’s role as pilot in the 1928 transatlantic flight aboard the “Friendship” Fokker airplane. Types of materials in the papers include a flight plan, photograph, contract, letter, and Stultz’s pilot’s license.