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June 1, 2016

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On Amelia Earhart Day

I’ll admit, my overwhelming admiration for Amelia Earhart has always been tempered by a dose of dread. After all, aside from making a name for herself as a female aviator, she is best known for vanishing into thin air (no pun intended) during her attempted flight around the world.

But while reading Candace Fleming’s Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart, I came to realize that there was so much more to this courageous woman than the mystery surrounding her disappearance.

Even as a child at the turn of the twentieth century, Amelia was remarkably bold and self-sufficient. She climbed fences and led mud-ball fights, wore pants when other girls wore only skirts and dresses, and even learned to play male-only sports like basketball. She later stated, “The rules of female conduct bewildered and annoyed [me].” And so she ignored them altogether.

Amelia excelled in math and science, although as she got older her efforts to learn were often diverted by family problems or greater urges to help people in need. She dropped out of prep school to work as a volunteer nurse’s aide in World War I, and later left medical school to be a social worker.

But it wasn’t until she witnessed an airshow that she felt she had found her true calling. When she was allowed a trial flight, she said of the experience, “I knew what I wanted to do with my life. . . . I knew I myself had to fly.” For daring Amelia, nothing compared to the speed and exhilaration of flying.

After earning her pilot’s license, Amelia went on to break multiple world records. Among the most significant were being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic—both accompanied and solo—and completing the first solo flight from Hawaii to California. She gained increasing fame with each feat, as well as with the help of her husband-to-be and master publicist George Putnam.

Yet Earhart’s bravery was accompanied by a stubborn and impetuous streak, which often got her into trouble. She thought nothing of taking unnecessary risks, and even refused to practice flying on new planes—trusting that she would be able to figure out new instruments when the time came. Amelia got lucky in several minor crashes, emerging unscathed from the cockpit time and again. But her fatal mistake came when she blew off learning how to use her radio equipment before her attempted flight around the world. When she ran into trouble, she had no way to figure out her position or ask for help. One aviation expert said, “The solution to Amelia’s future communication problems was right at her fingertips—if only she had understood how her radio worked.”

This flight was meant to be Amelia’s last major feat. She told her husband, “With it behind me life will be fuller and richer. I can be content. Afterward it will be fun to grow old.” Sadly, she never had the chance. Yet I agree with Eleanor Roosevelt, a dear friend of Amelia’s, when she told reporters, “I am sure Amelia’s last words were ‘I have no regrets.’”

Amelia remains an inspiration to men and women alike. She was feisty and independent at heart, a savvy businesswoman, a dreamer, and a doer. And most importantly, she never let societal pressures dictate her decision. I always looked upon Amelia’s story as incomplete: what happened in her final flight? How could she disappear without a trace?  But I see now that these unanswered questions are nowhere near as important as her lasting legacy. This brilliant and brave woman used her fame to promote both the advancement of aviation and the advancement of women—causes through which her memory will always live on.

 

About the Author: Mari LeGagnoux is a Social Media/Online Marketing intern. She is a senior English concentrator at Brown University, but an Angeleno at heart. She also drinks way too much tea. 

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