By Anne Marie Houppert
Amelia Earhart is in the news again amidst reports that wreckage originally discovered two decades ago does, indeed, belong to her missing plane. Rather than focus on the mystery of her disappearance, we’d like to celebrate this discovery by paying homage to the aviator’s many accomplishments.
For instance, did you know Amelia has a connection to the National Geographic Society? Not only was she awarded the Special Gold Medal by the Society, but she also authored a May 1935 National Geographic magazine article, “My Flight From Hawaii.” The article recounts her preparation for a solo flight from Honolulu to San Francisco, starting with the voyage from Los Angeles to Hawaii with her Lockheed secured on the aft tennis court of the ship Lurline—photos included! On January 11th, 1935, the weather conditions were deemed favorable enough and she took off:
The night I found over the Pacific was a night of stars. They seemed to rise from the sea and hang outside my cockpit window, near enough to touch, until hours later they slipped away into the dawn.
But shortly after midnight I spied a star that differed from the others. It was too pink and flashed as no star could. I realized I was seeing a ship, its searchlights turned into the heavens as a lamppost to guide me on my way. I snapped on my landing lights, which are on the leading edge of the wings midway to their tips, and had them bravely blink a greeting to whoever might be watching.
You can read the rest of the story in the National Geographic Virtual Library. Don’t miss the photo insert in the middle of article titled “Waves and Thrills at Waikiki” by Thomas Edward Blake. The surfing photos are the height of retro cool.
Sadly, Earhart vanished in 1937 along with her navigator Fred Noonan while flying a leg of a planned circumnavigation around the globe. A January 1998 National Geographic magazine article by Virginia Morell—simply entitled “Amelia Earhart”–describes her early life as a tomboy in Atchison, Kansas, as well as her many professional roles, including nurse’s aid, college career counselor, and even clothing designer. Morell notes Earhart “…used her fame to promote air travel and equal opportunities for women aloft.” In fact, a 31-year-old woman named Amelia Rose Earhart just became the youngest woman to accomplish a round-the-world trip by plane. The article also reports on the rescue attempts that were made and popular theories that have arisen since about what happened to Earhart and Noonan.
Many admired and loved Earhart for her courage and spirit of exploration, and the National Geographic Society was no exception. In June 1932 Earhart became the first woman to receive the Society’s Special Gold Medal, which has been awarded to explorers such as Lindbergh and Byrd, in recognition for her solo transatlantic flight. You can read an article and see photos of the award presentation in the National Geographic Virtual Library. Just search “Amelia Earhart”.
As a special bonus, you can listen here to the award presentation from 1932 at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., provided by our National Geographic Archives Staff; it includes remarks by National Geographic President Grosvenor, presentation by President Hoover, and a speech by Amelia herself.
For kids just beginning to read, check out the ebook Reader “Amelia Earhart” in National Geographic Virtual Library Kids. It’s full of engaging photos of Earhart’s life, and fun facts like what she ate while flying.
Anne Marie Houppert is manager of research and education products at the National Geographic Society Library in Washington, D.C. She helps direct the editorial efforts to extend National Geogrpahic print products into the digital library environment.