May 20th in (Feminist) History

extraordinarywomen_ameliaearhart3_tx800On this day in 1932, Amelia Earhart was the first female pilot (and second-ever pilot) to fly a solo, non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Leaving from Newfoundland on May 20th, she traveled over 2.000 miles in almost 15 hours to land in Ireland the next day. She received the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross for this achievement, but also set numerous other records as well. In 1928, as part of a three-person crew, Amelia was considered the first woman to cross the Atlantic in an aircraft at all, though on that flight she only kept the plane’s log. That year, she also became the first woman to fly solo across the North American continent and back, and in 1931 she set the world altitude record at 18,415 ft.

Though some people may now think of her as a stunt-flier, much of what Amelia did involved trying to change the perception of people when it came to women fliers. She worked as an associate editor at Cosmopolitan magazine, working not only towards greater acceptance of aviation in general, but especially for women. She promoted commercial air travel, did lecture tours, wrote books, and became an official at the National Aeronautic Association, where she worked towards the establishing of separate records for women fliers. She also created a group known as the Ninety-Nines, the members of which were all female pilots that worked to advance women in aviation. Always a strong advocate for female pilots, when the Bendix Trophy Race of 1934 banned women fliers, she refused to fly in Mary Pickford (screen actress) to open the races, in protest.

Of course, what Amelia Earhart is best known for now is not any of her achievements, but her final flight. In 1937, while attempting to make a circumnavigational flight around the world, her plane disappeared over the central Pacific Ocean, near Howland Island. In her last radio messages she said that she was lost and low on fuel. It was the last anyone ever heard of her. Neither her plane (minus a tiny piece of the engine), nor her body, were ever found, but Amelia herself inspired an entire generation of female aviators.

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