This week, the Herald celebrates Women’s History Month with a feature on pilot Amelia Earhart, thanks to Lake County resident Reggie Ward Jr., who facilitated the feature by contributing historic photographs of Earhart that his family has safeguarded for over 50 years.
I could not find any record of Earhart stopping through Leadville, whether by plane or foot. But the photographs, which are printed on pages 22-23 of this week’s edition, were too interesting to pass up. So, this week, we widen our coverage to celebrate a woman who traversed the globe by air.
Earhart moved frequently as a child, experiencing different parts of the United States at a young age. She rode horses, played basketball and kept a scrapbook of newspaper articles about women succeeding in male-oriented fields such as engineering and medicine.
During World War I, Earhart served as a nurse’s aide at a military hospital in Toronto. It was in Toronto that she attended her first flying exhibition in 1918.
Two years later, Earhart took to the skies for the first time as an airplane passenger. She was hooked. After saving up money, she began flying lessons in California with female pilot Anita Snook.
By 1922, Earhart had bought her own plane, earned her pilot’s license, and set the women’s altitude record after flying over 14,000 feet.
Her career took off. Earhart set several more women’s aviation records and became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
Throughout it all, Earhart worked to uplift women around her.
The pilot helped form The Ninety-Nines, an international organization for the advancement of female pilots that still exists today. She advocated for female pilots as the vice president of the National Aeronautic Association, and she designed a line of “functional” women’s clothing. Earhart later worked as an aviation adviser and career counselor at Purdue University, where she encouraged women to pursue careers then considered “non-traditional.”
In June of 1937, Earhart set out on her ill-fated around-the-world flight. She flew east, covering more than 22,000 miles over the course of a month. On July 2, Earhart disappeared over the Pacific Ocean, never to be seen again.
The photographs printed in this week’s Herald bring to life one stop on Earhart’s attempted circumnavigation of the globe.
Earhart is surrounded by men in most of the photographs. The prints help us imagine Earhart’s daily reality — a woman succeeding amongst an airfield of men.
In one photograph, male airport technicians help Earhart off her airplane. One holds her hand, the other looks as if he is about to lift her off onto the ground.
It feels both symbolic and preposterous. Earhart broke records, achieved worldwide fame, and set out to attempt what men had not. But once she exited her cockpit, she still “needed” a man’s boost to help her reach the ground.
In another photo, a young girl in a 1930s-era dress looks up at Earhart. Earhart smiles back in her plaid shirt and slacks, in front of a plane she owns and pilots. I imagine the girl contemplating Earhart, thinking up all the ways that she too will transcend boundaries.