By Holly Downes
Flying solo above the vast Atlantic Ocean, Amelia Earhart was the epitome of gender empowerment. Her legacy lies in her aviation career, a profession that was a traditionally masculine pursuit – a tradition that Amelia defied. Instead, she became the sixteenth woman to ever get a plane license in 1921 and was the first woman to fly solo in 1932 from Canada to Northern Ireland. Although her career ended suddenly at the age of 39 in a mysterious tragedy while attempting to circumnavigate the globe, her achievements are to be applauded. From a young age, she rebelled against the stereotypes of girls as she refused to play with dolls and instead collected insects and climbed trees. She was eager for adventure and nothing stopped her from achieving her dreams.
After graduating from Hyde Park School in Chicago in 1915, her yearbook described her as ‘A.E. – the girl who walks alone’, a description that perfectly captures her ambitions. She both literally walked alone on her solo flight across the Atlantic and figuratively walked alone in an era where male supremacy was paramount. Although her radical independence was greeted with disgust by men, portrayed in a rather condescending newspaper headline titled ‘yank girl flies Atlantic’, she became one of the most influential women in the 20th century.
Her drive to independence was perfectly captured in a dinner at the White House with Lady Eleanor Roosevelt who was also a passionate advocate of equal women’s rights. During the dinner, they took a spontaneous flight to Baltimore and back. Although two male pilots were instructed to fly the plane, Amelia instead took control, to which the First Lady commented: ‘It does not mark an epoch, doesn’t it when a girl in an evening dress and slippers can pilot a plane at night’. This quote sums up Amelia. She was not just a girl who looked pretty in an evening dress – she was a barrier breaker.
To her, there were ‘no borders, just horizons – only freedom’ as although aviation was a dangerous career, she passionately believed in the capacity of women to be as fearless as men. Stereotypically, women were flight demonstrators at the very most, however, Amelia exceeded this societal expectation. She broke down barriers which society thought could not be broken, becoming the physical embodiment of the well-worn phrase, ‘the sky is the limit’.
However, despite being well-renowned for her achievements in aviation, many fail to focus on her role as an intellectual. Her aviation fame, which extended from her success in a male-dominated field, gave her the platform to inspire other women. She had a burning desire to write and became a lecturer, poet and award-winning author. She became an Aviation Editor for Cosmopolitan magazine which gave her the perfect platform to voice women’s rights within the workplace. She also co-founded The Ninety-Nines, an organisation that encourages women to become pilots to this day.
She used the negative assumptions of her gender to her advantage and promoted more women to challenge the conventions and take the air. She fought continually throughout her career to show the world that her gender was capable of many things when given the chance. Before her final flight, she wrote to her husband, ‘I want to do it because I want to do it, all women must try to do things as men have tried’ because without trying, you never know what you are capable of. Although she tragically disappeared, her words and actions left a significant stain on the fight for women’s equality and continue to in the present day.
The same way the infamous Jane Eyre in Charlotte Brontë’s novel is ‘no bird and no net ensnares me’, both women, fictional and non-fictional, refused to follow the conventions that limited their freedom as ‘there’s more to life than being a passenger’ – a maxim all women should live by today.