7. Amelia Mary Earhart.
Fictional heroine Ace Carroway loves to fly and faces danger with grit. Real past and present pilots have that same love and that same courage. I’d like to pay some homage to a few of them in this blog.
Surely, Amelia Earhart is the first person who leaps to mind as a model for Ace Carroway. She was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic (as a passenger in 1928 and solo in 1932). We are endlessly fascinated with her 1937 disappearance even now, more than 80 years later. She disappeared during an around-the-world attempt in the vicinity of Howland Island in the South Pacific.
But I want to zero on in on what I consider to be the key to Amelia Earhart’s pluck. To do this, one must know that her father, Edwin, suffered from alcoholism and was a sporadic provider to his wife Amy and daughters. As she grew up, Amelia learned to provide for herself because her parents couldn’t always. Finally, in 1915, Amy separated from Edwin and moved her daughters to Chicago to live with friends. Amelia attended and in due course graduated from Hyde Park High School. After seeing wounded soldiers, she volunteered as a Red Cross nurse’s aid. The wounded pilots she met told her stories of the war, and she grew to admire them. Independent, and a supporter of voting rights for women, she kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in predominantly male-oriented fields, including film direction and production, law, advertising, management, and mechanical engineering.
Postwar, she enrolled in medical studies at Columbia University, but only a year later disenrolled to be with her parents, who had reunited in California.
At a Long Beach airshow on December 28, 1920, pilot Frank Hawks gave rides. When Amelia got her turn in the air, it set a new course for her life. She wrote, “By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly.”
And here is the moment of pluck and grit I want to describe. Amelia worked any job she could, from photographer to truck driver, with the goal of learning to fly. Eventually, she earned enough money to take flying lessons from pioneer female aviator Anita “Neta” Snook. Amelia became obsessed, even more than before. She immersed herself in aviation. She read everything about flying, spent her slivers of free time at the airfield, cropped her hair short in the style of other women aviators, and saved every dime.
In less than a year, she had scraped enough dollars together to purchase a second-hand Kinner Airster. This two seat biplane was painted bright yellow, and Amelia called it “The Canary.” In short order, she flew the Canary to 14,000 feet altitude to set her first women’s record.
But the money ran out. Amelia was forced to sell her plane. Furthermore, an old sinus problem worsened, and she had surgery in 1924, which was not successful. After recovering, she scraped by as a teacher, then as a social worker.
And she never gave up. She maintained her pilot’s license. She was active in the Boston chapter of the American Aeronautical Society. She acted as a sales agent for Kinner and flew out of Dennison airport near Medford. She began writing a newspaper column promoting aviation in general and women aviators in particular. She was flying again.
And there I will stop. She had achieved her dream.
Certainly, there is more to her story. Much more. But her 1928 transatlantic flight wasn’t her idea, and she never sought the fame the public heaped upon her. It seems to me that her subsequent career was never completely in her grasp. Her disappearance is fabulous fodder for the speculative theorist, but to me the central part of Amelia’s story was the scrape for those flying lessons. And then after losing her Canary, a second scrape for the chance to fly again. A thousand times when she had a dollar to spend, she refused small comforts and chose instead her dream.
In the end, that’s what she is known for; for flying, and none can argue against it. Fly she did, and very well, and loved it truly.