Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Rydal, Montgomery County
Aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart attended the Ogontz School.
Amelia Earhart was born in Atchison, Kansas, on July 24, 1897. She eventually became a nurse and worked in hospitals during WWI. She quickly made a name for herself when she was one of the first females to obtain a pilot’s license. She flew the Atlantic twice, once solo (the first female to do so). Earning many awards, she continued to break records and help close the gap between men and women. She wrote books about her experiences published by her husband, George Putnam. She decided on one great endeavor, a flight around the world. Unfortunately it was her last flight; she and her navigator Frank Noonan disappeared on July 2, 1937.
Amelia Mary Earhart was born on her grandparent’s estate in Atchison, Kansas, on July 24, 1897. Her mother, Amy Earhart, had returned to her parents’ home for Amelia’s birth. Amelia’s grandfather, Alfred Otis, had a wealthy estate and could afford to send his grandchildren to private schools and enjoy other comforts in life. Amelia Earhart’s father, Edwin Earhart, was a lawyer in Kansas City and remained there during Amelia Earhart’s birth. Edwin Earhart’s law practice soon failed and he had to take an executive job in Des Moines, Iowa, in 1905. Amelia Earhart’s mother and father moved to Des Moines, leaving Amelia Earhart and her younger sister Muriel Earhart with their grandparents. It was not until 1908 that Amelia Earhart and her sister were to rejoin their parents in Iowa. Amelia Earhart’s grandparents did not approve of her father; he was said to have had a drinking problem. Due to that factor, he held many jobs, moving the family around quite a bit during her childhood. During this time, one of her father’s jobs took the family to Rydal, Pennsylvania, where Edwin Earhart was an attorney for the local railroad. At that time, the young Earhart attended the Ogontz School for Girls in Rydal, which later became Pennsylvania State University – Abington in 1950. When Amelia Earhart moved to Iowa at the age of 10, she saw her first airplane at the Iowa State Fair. She said of the experience, “It was a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting.” Although that was her first encounter with an airplane, it would not be her last. She would again experience airplanes in 1918, but with a whole new outlook. Amelia Earhart had been in Toronto working as a nurse at a hospital during World War I, where she found an interest in medicine. It was about the time of the Armistice of November 1918, at a fair in Canada, when a friend and Ms. Earhart were sitting in a field enjoying watching pilots that had returned from war. One pilot thought it funny to watch the girls scurry as he swept low to the ground with his small red plane. Amelia did not move; she stood there and watched: “I didn’t understand it at the time but I believe that little red airplane said something to me as it swished by.” After that incident, she went to Columbia University in New York to pursue a degree in pre-med. In her book Last Flight, published in 1937, she said she may have studied pre-med, “However I could not forget airplanes.” On summer vacation, visiting her parents in California, she went to every air meet she could find. Eventually she found one person who would give her a ride in his airplane for $1. Frank Hawks, who would later become a famous pilot, gave Ms. Earhart her first experience riding in an airplane. She wrote in her book Last Flight: “By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground I knew I had to fly.” After that she stayed in California and her mother helped her purchase her first plane: a small, yellow second-hand plane, but she loved it. She soon began lessons with aviatrix Anita “Neta” Snook, one of the first female pilots and a pioneer in her day. Amelia Earhart quickly took to flying; by October 1922, she was attempting to break records. Due to financial problems, Earhart practicality sold her plane for a yellow automobile which she used to drive her and her mother across country to Boston, where she could get a practical job that paid money. In Boston she was working at one of America’s oldest social settlements, the Denison House. While working there she got a phone call that changed the course of her career. She had been commissioned for a flight across the Atlantic by Captain H.H. Railey. She was to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. Railey had been paid by George Putnam to find a woman to make the flight, this would increase the media watching the flight. Captain Railey found Amelia Earhart interesting and thought her resemblance to Charles Lindbergh, “Lucky Lindy,” would intrigue the press. Railey was the first to coin the nickname “Lady Lindy” for Amelia Earhart. The flight across the Atlantic in the plane named Friendship started in Nova Scotia on June 18, 1928, with pilots Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon. That flight landed in South Wales and was the start of Amelia’s fame as a pilot. Even though Amelia herself said that she was just a passenger on the flight there to learn and that Stultz and Gordon were the real pilots, everyone seemed to praise her. Amelia Earhart returned to the United States after her experience and began to lecture and give interviews. She had her first solo flight from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast in 1928. George Putnam was still behind her every step of the way. He publicized her and her flights to ensure she would stay in the front pages. She wrote a book detailing her flight across the Atlantic with Gordon and Stultz: 20 Hours and 40 Minutes: A Flight in Friendship. In 1929, Earhart participated in the first sponsored women's cross-country race from California to Cleveland. Ms. Earhart continued to work in aviation breaking women’s speed records in a Lockheed Vega airplane in 1930. On February 7, 1931, Amelia and her publisher, George Putnam, were happily married, after his divorce to his first wife in December 1929. As of 1932, no one since Charles Lindbergh had flown the Atlantic solo. Amelia Earhart decided she was ready for the challenge. On May 20, 1932, she took off, having hit some bad weather during the flight she persevered. She recalled thinking one night during the flight, “in a detached way, whether one would prefer drowning to incineration. Of the five hour storm during the black midnight, when I kept right side up by instruments alone…” Earhart landed in Northern Ireland safely. For this flight she broke several records: first woman to fly across the Atlantic solo, the first person to fly the Atlantic twice, the longest non-stop distance flown by a woman, and for crossing the Atlantic in the shortest amount of time. Earhart, upon her return, was presented with a National Geographic Society Award by President Hoover. She was also presented with the Outstanding Woman of the Year Award and Congress issued the Flying Cross to Amelia Earhart in 1932, presented to her in her birthplace of Atchison, Kansas. President Hoover had this to say to Amelia Earhart:
I VOICE the pride of the Nation in congratulating you most heartily upon achieving the splendid pioneer solo flight by a woman across the Atlantic Ocean. You have demonstrated not only your own dauntless courage but also the capacity of women to match the skill of men in carrying through the most difficult feats of high adventure.
In 1934, Earhart decided her next adventure was a trans-pacific flight from Hawaii to Oakland, California, and then onto Washington, DC. She started this flight on January 11, 1935, and landed in Oakland, California. In this flight, she was the first civilian plane to carry a two way radio. That same year she would make a goodwill flight to Mexico City. She also accepted a consultant position at Purdue University in the Department for the Study of Careers for Women. Amelia Earhart’s first attempt at an around the world flight was in March of 1935. During the first part of flight from Oakland to Hawaii, her plane experienced damage to the right wing and landed scraping the runway on the plane’s belly. The plane had to be shipped back to California for repairs and the flight postponed. Earhart awaited her plane’s repair and reworked her flight path, this time she would fly east instead of west due to potentially dangerous weather patterns. Earhart’s second attempt around the world would be a dangerous and epic one. This flight would become legend, as Earhart herself would. On May 21, 1937, Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan departed from Oakland, California, for their around-the-world flight. Their first stop: Miami, Florida. Their flight was well documented and followed by the world. Next they stopped in San Juan, Puerto Rico, then Africa and the Red Sea. From there, nonstop to Karachi, India, to Calcutta on June 17, then to Rangoon, Bangkok, Singapore, and Bandoeng.
Along the route, they made planned stops to get fuel and food. They were held in Bandoeng for days because of monsoons that were coming through their flight path. It is said that during these several days Earhart began to fall ill, but would not give up and insisted on continuing. After repairs were made and the weather cleared, they headed for Australia. From Australia they reached Lae, New Guinea, on June 29, 1937. By then they had flown 22,000 miles and only had 7,000 left to go over the Pacific. Photos of Amelia Earhart taken in Lae for the Herald Tribune had her looking very ill and tired. During Noonan’s and Earhart’s stops on the long journey, Noonan expressed his admiration for Earhart as an aviator by saying, “Amelia is a grand person for such a trip. She is the only woman flyer I would care to make such an expedition with. Because in addition to being a fine companion and pilot, she can take hardship as well as a man–and work like one.” On July 2, 1937, Earhart and Noonan took off on course for Howland Island. The US Coast Guard cutter Itasca was receiving transmission from her plane during this flight due to low radio signal in the area. The last transmission from the plane to the Coast Guard was “KHAQQ calling Itasca. We must be on you but cannot see you...gas is running low...” After hours without further transmissions, a search was started. President Roosevelt authorized nine naval ships and 66 aircrafts to search (costing about $4 million) for Amelia Earhart’s downed plane. No one was found. On July 18, the search was abandoned. George Putnam continued to search until October of that year, when he too gave up hope of finding her alive. The accounts and letters she sent to George were published in her last book which was to be named “World Flight,” but which Putnam published under the title, Last Flight in 1937. Amelia Earhart’s flight disappearance has been the center of many mysteries and conspiracy theories over the years. It is estimated that her plane went down somewhere between 35 and 100 miles off the coast of the Howland Islands. Amelia was a pioneer for women everywhere and an innovative pilot that feared nothing. A friend of George Putnam’s and writer for the New York Herald Tribune, C.B. Allen, said of Mrs. Amelia Earhart Putnam: Being men and being engaged in a highly essential phase of the serious business of air transportation, they [airline mechanics] all naturally had preconceived notions about a woman pilot bent on a ‘stunt’ flight - not very favorable notions either. It was, undoubtedly, something of a shock to discover that the ‘gal’ with whom they had to deal not only was an exceptionally pleasant human being who ‘knew her stuff,’ but that she knew exactly what she wanted done, and had sense enough to let them alone while they did it. There was an almost audible clatter of chips falling off skeptical masculine shoulders.
Amelia Earhart died the way she wanted, with her plane while still able to fly. From a poem she wrote titled “Courage,” these are Amelia Earhart’s last words to readers of Last Flight, her last book published shortly after her disappearance:
Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace. The soul knows it not, knows no release From the little things; Knows not the livid loneliness of fear Nor mountain heights, where bitter joy can hear The sound of wings. How can life grant us boon of living, compensate For dull gray ugliness and pregnant hate Unless we dare The soul’s dominion? Each time we make a choice, we pay With courage to behold resistless day And count it fair. —Amelia Earhart
The search for Earhart’s remains continues today, driven mainly by private investigators and associations such as The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery.
20 Hours 40 Minutes; Our Flight in the Friendship. New York: Putnam’s Sons, 1928.
The Fun of it. New York: Brewer, Warren, & Putnam, 1932.
Last Flight. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1937.