Happy Women’s History Month (WHM)! WHM dedicated to celebrating strong, iconic, pioneering women from throughout history who have knocked down walls to pave us a new path. Aviation, in particular, is an industry that was largely dominated by men – pilots, inventors, engineers and so forth – until a very special woman came along who challenged this norm, not only in the skies but on the ground as a political activist, too. Known as ‘Queen of the Air’, we are of course referring to Amelia Earhart.
Amelia is famed for being an early female aviationist; holding the women’s altitude record in 1922, the first woman to fly an autogyro (essentially, a one-person helicopter) in 1931, the first woman to then cross the U.S. in said autogyro, the first woman to cross the Atlantic (twice!) by 1932 and the first woman to fly non-stop across the U.S. in 1933.
Funnily enough, she only took her first flight (as a passenger) in 1920 and was so enthralled by the experience, she knew she had to be a part of it. She worked a number of jobs over the next year to save up for flying lessons, purposefully seeking out a female instructor to teach her. Within one year, she’d bought herself a plane, nicknamed ‘The Canary’ and by 1922, held her first world-record for flying 14,000 ft. Strangely enough, records show that she did this without her official pilot’s licence, which wasn’t issued until ’23. Amelia was only the 16th woman to be issued a licence at that time.
A huge women’s rights activist, Amelia wished to empower women worldwide to enter the aviation industry. In 1929, she helped found an organisation called the “Ninety Nines; International Organisation of Women Pilots’, which, despite being hugely controversial at the time, still thrives with thousands of members today. At the time of its founding, there were over 9,000 men in the U.S. with their pilot’s licence but only 117 women, as flying was seen as ‘far too dangerous’ for girls to aspire to. Amelia sought to address this, and thus the Ninety Nines served as a place of support, a place to find job opportunities within a field that they were largely pushed out of and a place to record women’s aviation achievements that the press seemed to ignore.
Whilst Amelia’s list of aviation achievements has been hugely instrumental in our field, she was also an innovator in other areas of her life; starting her own no-iron wash-and-wear clothing line, which enabled women to wear simple, elegant, comfortable clothes that required little maintenance. She was on the front-line of fighting for women’s rights; she worked as a nurse during the Spanish flu epidemic; she was a teacher and a social worker, holding English classes for Syrian and Chinese immigrants; and, she was a writer, serving as ‘aviation editor’ for Cosmopolitan magazine in 1928. Despite being told almost at every turn that flying was dangerous – too dangerous for a woman – she fought for her place in the sky and became arguably one of the most infamous names in air history.
She is also well known for her sudden – and much-too-soon – disappearance, as she attempted to fly solo around the world but sadly, lost radio contact and was never seen again. The search for Amelia even continues on today but to no avail.
This month, I will be thinking of the many great women just like Amelia who helped to give people like me the right to sit on the board of a successful travel company. I will think of the incredible women who mentored me in my youth, who I aspired to me in my adulthood and the women who continue to inspire me now. I think we could all take a little something from Amelia Earhart; a courageous innovator who wouldn’t let anything stop her achieving what she set out to do… not even the sky.
Happy International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, all.