Pioneering Aviator Amelia Earhart Embodied the “Spirit of America”

Amelia Earhart (1897–1937) returned to the news last week when new analysis of a photograph taken soon after her plane mysteriously disappeared in 1937 seemed to reveal that the pioneering aviator crashed in the Pacific Ocean off the island of Nikumaroro in the nation of Kiribati. The U.S. Department of State plans to travel to the island in July to search for the wreckage.

Earhart disappeared in the Pacific on July 2, 1937, while attempting to fly around the world. She had already achieved many “firsts” as a female pilot. In 1932, she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and across the continental United States. (Jack Northrop designed her beloved Vega, a sleek wooden monoplane that launched the Lockheed company on its path to success. Earhart later flew a Lockheed Electra.) For her trans-Atlantic flight, Congress awarded her the Distinguished Flying Cross. Three years later she became the first woman to fly across the Pacific from Hawaii to California.

In addition to her aviation career, Earhart also served as a nurse during World War I and as a women’s career counselor at Purdue University in the mid-1930s. Her achievements were inspiring not only to women but to all of America struggling through the Depression.