feminist icon: amelia earhart

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Today is the 75th anniversary of Amelia Earhart’s disappearance from her circumnavigational attempt around the globe in 1937. And I kinda want to talk about it.

I think America’s obsession with Amelia is that she was a strong, badass feminist who did not only what many men couldn’t do but what many people couldn’t – fly a plane and do it well. She was a bestselling author and faculty at Purdue University to boot, and was instrumental in the creation of the first female coalition of pilots, The Ninety-Nines (still going strong with nearly 6,000 members nationwide in thirty countries).

My obsession is that she was super foxy and didn’t let anything hold her back.

There were really non-factual rumors that she was a lesbian – basically because anyone who’s a feminist and has a strong, female voice must be, right? – but she was, in fact, married to a man. Though I’m not gigantically into the idea of marriage, I like the way Amelia went about hers — the following are excerpts from her letter that was hand-delivered to her husband George Putnam on the day of their wedding:

“You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which means most to me…On our life together I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any midaevil code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly.”

The rest of the letter states that she’s going to have her own place where she can go to hang out alone, and if in a year they find themselves unhappy, they’ll just get a divorce.

All of this seems cool and reminiscent of open relationships now – but this was 1931. As in 1931. For a woman who refused to call her marriage anything other than a partnership and who had newspapers refer to her husband as “Mr. Earhart,” this was a huge deal.

Other than in her partnership, she was a feminist icon as she was a goal-oriented, result-seeking career woman. In 1930, many women were working switchboards as telephone operators and working in factories. Amelia was a woman that traveled the world and worked her ass off to do as she pleased, and that was the icon that women needed back then. Her vast knowledge of what she spoke about was also impressive. (Sadly, the only interview I could find shows her awkwardly reading off of cue cards. You can check it out here – but she was very much known for her eloquence in speaking otherwise, I promise).

Some have theorized that when she left Lae, New Guinea, headed for Howland Island (a small, unincorporated island located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean) that it was a planned disappearance. Yet, that may be odd, as she was flying with Fred Noonan, who was also married at the time. They met through mutual connections, and she chose him as her flight partner based on his high rankings as a flight navigator for Pan Am and sea captain. Their rumored affair took flight (hehe) in 1943 with the film Flight for Freedom, which also speculated that Amelia was in ties with the U.S. Navy. Along with “running for love,” there are speculations that Amelia was taken into prison in Japan, that she lived in New Jersey under the alias Irene Bolam, that she was a Tokyo Rose…so many odd choices, when in all truth and honesty, it seems that the flight communication was jumbled.

When Amelia lost communications, the weather was clear, but she was flying really low — 1,000 feet above sea level to be exact. Why, though? Though the weather was clear, it seemed that there were some pretty thick clouds that weren’t allowing for much visibility. Therefore, since she was having issues with radio communication, Amelia dropped lower to attempt to see the smokescreen that was being set for her to find her landing. Alas, communication was cut off before she could get to it. (She and Noonan were using newer forms of communication, and it’s theorized that signals were crossing, making it overall difficult to hear).

And, if search crews went out to find her right after, why wasn’t she found? Oddly enough, though she was flying toward American soil, she was near the Japanese-controlled Marshall Islands. Considering we weren’t in the best of places with Japan in 1937, the odds of the flight debris being sought after weren’t so great. According to three radioed attempts, she had attempted to turn back to the Gilbert Islands before completely losing radio transmission.

Amelia’s legacy is a complete mystery – mostly because there are so many theories attached to it. Her fame and celebrity status didn’t bother her, so it seems – she enjoyed being able to fly and meet companions doing so. However, her disappearance leaves all of us wondering where she could be. Remains are said to have been found, but nothing is set in stone, leaving all of us to pine after the feminist icon who paved the road (and sky) for American women to be independent, free-thinking dreamers in the clouds. Here’s to you, Amelia. You make me want to wear bomber jackets and set my path on fire – you were a woman to be reckoned with and I salute your true spirit.

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5 thoughts on “feminist icon: amelia earhart

  1. I was definitely a huge Amelia Earhart nerd as a kid. My family tried to make sure I had strong female historical role models. I love how you hit the highlights!

  2. A most excellent post! Thank you for reminding me of Amelia and her quest…I’ve always idolized her and of course wondered what the “real” story was – or IS! Again, you bring the fantastical thoughts of the adventures she probably had AFTER disappearing to my active imagination! Thank you! ~Ang

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