Homeschool Heroes: Amelia Earhart for Kids
Too often schools get caught up teaching to the test. And sadly, that means that some of history's most influential people get cut from the curriculum. This series, Homeschool Heroes, tries to right that wrong so that kids grow up "standing on the shoulders of giants", with real-life role models that drive them towards greatness. Because what would childhood be, really, without a hero or two?
Today's lesson plan? Amelia Earhart!
Remembered just as much for her accomplishments as for her greatest failure, one of the most famous pilots in American history was a celebrity advocate for women’s empowerment in the 1920s and 1930s. She flew across the Atlantic, North America, and Asia, but it was the southwest Pacific that would finally prove insurmountable when her plane, on a mission to circumnavigate the globe, disappeared and left her final fate a mystery. Meet Amelia Earhart:
If At First You Don’t Succeed…
Amelia was born in 1897 and saw the beginning of the 20th century as a child in Kansas. Bounced around between her upper-middle class grandparents and her parents, who moved frequently due to her alcoholic father’s inability to keep a job, Amelia began her life with a great deal of independence. She learned not to look to anyone else to take care of her, because it was obvious her parents couldn’t.
She excelled in science and math, and even became a volunteer nurse’s aide for wounded soldiers after World War I. This stint with the Red Cross also put her in contact with the Royal Flying Corps, who practiced at a nearby field. This is where Earhart first fell in love with aviation.
Even though it meant dropping out of medical school, Amelia eventually decided that she had to learn to fly. She worked odd jobs as a truck driver, photographer, and stenographer to afford the lessons, which she took from Anita Snook, one of the first women to ever gain a pilot’s license. Amelia became the 16th.
After investing a great deal of time learning to fly and buying a plane, Amelia still didn’t have a career as a pilot, and eventually had to stop flying; but she didn’t give up her dream. Instead, she worked as a sales rep for Kinner aircraft and wrote articles about aviation in a local newspaper. Because of her writing and pavement-pounding on behalf of aeronautics, she became a local celebrity.
After Charles Lindbergh completed the first solo transatlantic flight, progressives wanted to see a woman accomplish the same feat. When Earhart was asked if she was up for the task, she readily accepted a sponsorship to do it. She did make it across the Atlantic in 1928, but only as a passenger. The flight conditions were seen as “too dangerous” for a woman to conduct.
Despite her disappointment at the backhanded opportunity, her celebrity status was secured by the passage and she used this status to advocate for women in aviation, and make a full-time return to flying. Eventually, in 1932, she made the same transatlantic passage by herself, becoming the first woman to fly across the Atlantic.
In 1937, along with a co-pilot, Amelia began her greatest mission of all: flying all the way across the globe. The small plane stopped many times along the path crossing North America, the Atlantic, Africa, and Asia. The last leg of the flight was across the Pacific, with a pit stop between Australia and Hawaii on a small island to refuel and recharge.
Earhart and her co-pilot never made it to the refueling point. Their plane lost communication with ground control and was never found, leaving her disappearance one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century.
Amelia Earhart’s legacy as a great female American aviator and advocate for women in a variety of male-dominated fields may have only gained mystique after her disappearance and in fact, she was not officially declared dead until more than two years after she was last seen.
Curiosity about her disappearance has sparked several fictional works that are worth looking at, too. Star Trek: Voyager episode “The 37s” finds Amelia’s preserved body across the galaxy, explaining that she was kidnapped by aliens in 1937. Amelia Earhart: The Final Flight and Amelia are two of Hollywood’s versions of what happened.
How to Celebrate Amelia Earhart Day
Yep, she’s the only aviator with a holiday named in her honor. “Amelia Earhart Day” comes around every July 24. How do you celebrate? Fly away, of course!
- Read Earhart’s book on flying and women in aviation, The Fun of It. Ask your daughter what her passion is, and spend the afternoon doing something she finds fun, dangerous, and maybe not very ladylike.
- Conduct your own investigation of Earhart’s disappearance. There are so many facts out there about what might have happened to her that there’s plenty of fodder for choosing your own adventure. When you’re done researching, write a story about what you think could have happened. Did she live on a remote island with the native people? Get captured by an enemy spy plane? Float along the Pacific in a raft?
- Design a flight suit. Among her other accomplishments, Amelia was also a pioneering fashion designer. She wore a style of practical but feminine clothes that she eventually sold to the public. Develop your own fashions for flying and test them on a zipline.
The Right Woman for the Job
Today, Amelia Earhart is remembered more than her pioneering female flight instructor, or the handful of other female pilots who broke barriers and actually beat Amelia at her own feats. In a way, it’s like she never died.
At least four “memorial flights,” which trace Amelia’s path across the globe in a similar aircraft, have been completed by female pilots, proving that her legacy lives on in generations of women whom she inspired.
Who are some of your heroes you’d want the kids to look up to, and why?