Amelia Earhart: Pilot and feminist (+video)
Amelia Earhart broke aviation records and gained the respect of male pilots. But Amelia Earhart also held modern views about gender roles, and demanded equal status in her marriage.
Amelia Earhart, the famed aviatrix, is best remembered for the mystery surrounding her 1937 disappearance – and by the way, Google is honoring her today with a birthday doodle. But Earhart’s views about gender equality are arguably as noteworthy as her flight records.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Earhart started challenging gender stereotypes early in her life. According to ameliaearhart.com, the official website produced by her family, Earhart, who grew up in Atchison, Kans., was a tomboy who loved climbing trees, hunting rats with a .22 rifle, and “belly-slamming” her sled to start it downhill.
As a young girl, she kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about great women of the time in fields of all sorts; film, law, advertising, management, and mechanical engineering.
"Even as a child, as a little girl, she said she should be allowed to do anything a boy would be allowed to do," says Louise Foudray, the caretaker and historian for the Amelia Earhart museum in Atchison.
RECOMMENDED: Google Doodles you'll never see
Her parents’ turbulent marriage is also said to have contributed to her feminist mindset. Her mother was raised in a wealthy family, and her father struggled under the pressure to provide his wife with the sort of lifestyle she was used to. The couple eventually divorced.
Earhart swore that someday she would be an independent woman, and would never rely on a man for financial support. She worked her way to financial independence as a nurse’s aide in a military hospital in Canada during WWI, and later as a social worker in Boston.
Earhart earned enough money for flying lessons and paid for her first plane, a yellow two-seat biplane she named “Canary.” She set her first record in Canary, becoming the first woman to rise to an altitude of 14,000 feet.
Earhart joined the ranks of endurance pilots like Charles Lindbergh, breaking aviation records throughout the 20s and 30s. In 1932 she became the first woman, and only the second person after Lindbergh, to fly solo across the Atlantic.
The solo flight across the Atlantic proved, she said, that men and women were equal in “jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness, and willpower.” Earhart not only seemed determined to make it known that women were as capable as men, but to challenge other women to push themselves, and the boundaries of what they could accomplish.
“Now and then women should do for themselves what men have already done — occasionally what men have not done — thereby establishing themselves as persons, and perhaps encouraging other women toward greater independence of thought and action,” she said.
But earning the respect of male pilots and the admiration of a nation wasn’t her only goal; Earhart sought equality in every aspect of her life. In 1931 when she married her publicist and friend, George Putnam, she called the union a “partnership,” with “dual control.”
Earhart used her notoriety to rally support for other female pilots who faced gender discrimination. When Helen Richey, the first female commercial airline pilot, quit her job at Central Air Lines in 1935 after just 10 months because the airline suggested she wouldn't be physically strong enough to fly in bad weather, Earhart organized a protest in Washington DC.