America's famous aviatrix Amelia Mary Earhart was born on July 24, 1897 at her grandparents' home in Atchison, Kansas. Her grandfather, Alfred Otis was one of the leading citizens of Atchison. Amy Earhart, having suffered a miscarriage in an earlier pregnancy, returned to her parents home to await the birth of Amelia. Her father, Edwin Earhart remained with his law practice in Kansas City during this period. A sister, Muriel would be born 2 1/2 years later
Amelia (Millie) and her sister Muriel (Pidge) were to know privilege and wealth through their grandparents....attending private schools and enjoying many of the comforts of life. Alfred was never impressed with who he considered the "ne'er-do-well" son-in-law, Edwin.
Edwin Stanton Earhart failed to measure-up to the Otis standards of providing social status and large income for his family.
After failing in his private practice, Edwin took an executive job in 1905 with the Rock Island Line Railroad in Des Moines, Iowa. He and Amy moving to Des Moines, leaving the girls with their grandparents in Atchison. It was not till 1908 that the girls moved to Des Moines to be with their parents. Amelia was 10 years old when she saw her first airplane at the Iowa State Fair...
"It was a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting..."
...She was much more interested in a peach basket paper hat purchased at the fair. It would be more than a decade before Amelia's interest in aviation would be awaken.
Edwin was promoted in 1909 and their living standards much improved. "This happy time," Muriel was to later write, "was unfortunately a prelude to a period which saw the loss of our material prosperity and the beginning of the disintegration of the family..."...Edwin had begun to drink. In her early teens, it became apparent to Amelia that her father was a drunkard...as well as to neighbors and friends around them.
In 1914 Amy and the girls left Edwin after he was fired from The Rock Island RR, and went to live with friends in Chicago. The family's social and financial security had been eroded ...from occupying a leading position in society they had become the subject of local gossip and pity. Amy, having some income from a trust fund, provided for the girls and later sent them to private intermediate schools in preparation for college.
After visiting her sister in 1917 at a college preparatory school in Canada, Amelia decided to train as a nurses aid in Toronto and served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse at a military hospital until the Armistice in November 1918.
"There for the first time I realized what the World War meant. Instead of new uniforms and brass bands, I saw only the result of four years' desperate struggle; men without arms and legs, men who were paralyzed and men who were blind..."
In the fall of 1919 Amelia enrolled as a pre-med student at Columbia University. Although doing well in her studies, in 1920 she decided to join her mother and father in California. The had recently reunited and were encouraging the sisters to join them.
Several months after her arrival in California Amelia and her father went to an "aerial meet" at Daugherty Field in Long Beach. She had become very interested in flying. The next day, given a helmet and goggles, she boarded the open-cockpit biplane for a 10 minute flight over Los Angeles.
"As soon as we left the ground I knew I myself had to fly!"
Amelia had heard of a woman pilot who gave flying instructions and shortly afterwards began lessons with pioneer aviatrix Anita "Neta" Snook at Kinner Field near Long Beach. Amelia and Neta took to each other on sight, both having similar backgrounds. Neta had restored a "Canuck"...an old Canadian training plane.
In July Amelia purchased a prototype of the Kinner airplane...naming it "The Canary". She had several accidents during this period, but considering the unreliability of planes in the early days of aviation, some could be attributed to unreliable engines and slowness of the planes. Neta Snook had reservations about Amelia's skills as a pilot, a feeling that was later held by many of Amelia's contemporaries.
By October 1922, Amelia began participating in record breaking attempts and set a women's altitude record of 14,000 feet...broken a few weeks later by Ruth Nichols.
Amelia later sold her Kinner airplane and purchased a car...a Kissel that she nicknamed "the yellow peril". She drove her mother, Amy cross-country to Boston. Wherever they stopped people would gather...asking about the roads and other questions. Cross-continental travel by automobile was still very much a novelty...
"The fact that my roadster was a cheerful canary color may have caused some of the excitement. It had been modest enough in California, but was a little outspoken for Boston, I found."
In Autumn 1925, Amelia took a position at Denison House in Boston as a "novice" social worker and was later employed as a staff member. She joined the Boston Chapter of the National Aeronautic Association, and invested what little money she had in a company that would build an airport and market Kinner airplanes in Boston. During this time she took full advantage of the circumstances to promote flying...especially for women. She regularly became the subject of columns in newspapers. The Boston Globe called her "one of the best women pilots in the United States".
On April 27, 1926 her life was to change forever...a phone call from Captain H.H. Railey asked.."how would you like to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic?"