Amelia Mary Earhart (AE) was born on July 24, 1897, in Atchison, Kansas, to parents Amy Otis Earhart and Edwin Stanton Earhart. Her sister, Muriel, was born two and a half years later. Due to Edwin's occupation as a legal representative for various railroads, the family moved frequently during Amelia's childhood, living at times in Kansas City, Des Moines, St. Paul, and Chicago. After attending six high schools in four years, Amelia graduated from Chicago's Hyde Park High School in June 1915.
Amelia entered Ogontz School near Philadelphia in 1916. The following year, after visiting her sister Muriel in Toronto over Christmas, Amelia decided not to return to Ogontz School and graduate, but instead to remain and join the war effort in Toronto. In February 1918, Amelia left Ogontz School and moved to Toronto to become a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse at the Spadina Military Convalescent Hospital. While in Toronto, she began frequenting a local air field, and soon became fascinated with flying. Following the Armistice in November 1918, she returned to the United States and entered Columbia University as a pre-medical student in the fall of 1919. Amelia soon realized that the practical aspects of medicine did not appeal to her, and left Columbia in 1920 to join her parents in Los Angeles, in an effort to help keep their marriage intact. In December 1920, she took her first ride in an airplane with pilot Frank Hawks. In January 1921, she began taking flying lessons from Anita (“Neta”) Snook. With help from her family, she took a job in a telephone company and bought her first airplane. In 1922, she set her first aviation record with an unofficial women's altitude record of 14,000 feet under the auspices of the Aero Club of Southern California. The following March, Amelia appeared as one of the attractions at a local air rodeo and in May 1923 she acquired her airline pilot's license. She was the first woman, and seventeenth pilot, to receive a National Aeronautic Association pilot's license. She became engaged to Sam Chapman and worked in a photography studio. Despite Amelia's efforts, her father's alcoholism, combined with her parents' inability to manage money, eventually led to the divorce of Edwin and Amy Earhart in 1924.
Following her parents' divorce, Amelia sold her airplane and bought a Kissel roadster car she called the “Yellow Peril.” In June 1924, she drove cross-country with her mother from Los Angeles to Medford, Massachusetts, stopping along the way to visit several national parks (1924). She and her mother then moved in with Amelia's sister Muriel, in Medford, Massachusetts. After undergoing a sinus operation to relieve her chronic sinus headaches, Amelia returned to Columbia University for the winter of 1924-1925. In May 1925, Amelia returned to the Boston area and for a few weeks taught English to foreign students at a Harvard University summer extension program. From June to October, she worked as a companion in a hospital for mental diseases, but found the work too confining and the pay insufficient. In 1926, Amelia joined the staff of Denison House, Boston's oldest settlement house, as a social worker. At Denison House, Amelia worked with immigrants and their children, teaching them English and educating them on local customs. Earhart joined the Boston chapter of the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) and in 1928 was elected vice president of the chapter. While working one day at Denison House, in April 1928, Amelia received a call from Hilton H. Railey asking if she would like to be the first woman to cross the Atlantic by air. Amelia accepted the proposal and accompanied pilot Wilmer Stultz and mechanic Louis “Slim” Gordon on their 1928 transatlantic flight on the Friendship plane. She soon gained international acclaim for being the first woman to make the transatlantic crossing by air, although she did not fly the plane herself. Following the Friendship flight, Amelia wrote her first book, 20 Hrs. 40 Mins. She broke her engagement with Sam Chapman, and took a job as Aviation Editor for Cosmopolitan magazine.
In 1929, Amelia competed in the Powder Puff Derby, the first national Women's Air Derby race, finishing in third place. She was appointed Assistant to the General Traffic Manager at Transcontinental Air Transport with special responsibility for promoting aviation to women travelers. Amelia, along with Ruth Nichols and several other women pilots, founded the Ninety-Nines, the first women pilots' organization. In 1930, Amelia set the women's flying speed record of 181.18 mph and acquired her transport pilot's license. She became the first woman to fly an autogiro in the United States and became vice president of Ludington Lines, a commercial airline. Her father, Edwin Earhart, died of cancer that same year. In February 1931, Amelia married publisher George Palmer Putnam in Noank, Connecticut. Amelia acquired an autogiro and set an altitude record for the autogiro in April. She completed a solo transcontinental flight across the United States in an autogiro in the summer of 1931 and that same year was elected the national vice president of the NAA (and the first woman officer of the NAA). Amelia was also elected the first president of the Ninety-Nines in 1931, and served in this position until 1933.
In May 1932, Amelia became the first woman (and second person) to fly solo across the Atlantic. With this flight, Amelia became the first person to cross the Atlantic twice by air nonstop, setting a record for the fastest Atlantic crossing and the longest distance flown by a woman. Amelia was awarded the Army Air Corps Distinguished Flying Cross by U.S. Congress, Honorary Membership in the British Guild of Airpilots and Navigators, and the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society, which was presented to her by President Herbert Hoover. In July, she set the women's record for the fastest non-stop transcontinental flight, flying from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey. She wrote her second book, The Fun of It, and began lecturing all over the country, often speaking in two different cities on the same day. She was awarded the Harmon Trophy as America's Outstanding Airwoman, the Cross of Knight of the Legion of Honor by the French government, and received honorary membership in the National Aeronautic Association.
In 1933, Amelia participated in the National Air Races. The following year, in 1934, Amelia launched a fashion house to manufacture and market clothing designed by her. Her first shop opened in Macy's in New York. It was initially a success, but by the end of the year the venture was shut down. In November 1934, the Earhart/Putnam home in Rye, New York, caught fire and many of Earhart's earliest papers burned, including poems she wrote from her schooldays. In 1935, Amelia became the first person to fly solo from Hawaii to the American mainland, landing in Oakland, California. With this flight, Amelia became the first person to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean and the first person who had flown solo across both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. That same year, she became the first person to fly solo from Los Angeles to Mexico City, by official invitation of the Mexican government.
In the fall of 1935, Amelia joined the faculty of Purdue University, serving as a counselor in the study of careers for women and an adviser in aeronautics. In July 1936, Amelia acquired a new Lockheed Electra airplane she called her “Flying Laboratory.” It was purchased with funds from the Purdue Research Foundation. With her new airplane, Amelia began seriously planning a world flight at the equator.
In March 1937, Amelia made her first attempt to circumnavigate the globe at the equator, flying westward from Oakland to Hawaii. Unfortunately, her plans were later thwarted when she attempted a takeoff from Luke Field and ground looped her plane. The plane was badly damaged and had to be sent to California for repairs. On June 1, Amelia began her second world flight attempt, this time taking off from Miami with navigator Fred Noonan, and reversing her course from west to east. After completing 22,000 miles of the flight, Amelia and Fred Noonan departed from Lae, New Guinea en route to tiny Howland Island. They experienced radio and weather difficulties and eventually lost radio contact with the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca on July 2, 1937. Despite a massive search authorized by the U.S. government, no trace of Earhart, Noonan, or their plane was ever found. On July 18, the government abandoned its search, although George Putnam continued to finance his own search until October 1937. In 1939, Amelia Earhart was declared legally dead in Superior Court in Los Angeles. The whereabouts of Earhart and Noonan remains a mystery, and is the subject of much speculation to this day.