Among the most well-known Kansas natives, Amelia Mary Earhart, was born in Atchison on July 24, 1897. The adventurous Amelia and her younger sister Muriel lived with their wealthy grandparents in Atchison and attended a private school until 1908 when the family moved to Des Moines.
The 1928 trans-Atlantic flight of the Fokker Friendship launched Amelia’s career and established her name. As a passenger on the flight, she became the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by air. Shortly afterward, Amelia published 20 Hrs. 40 Min., an account of the flight. She soon began a nationwide tour in her new Avro Avian Moth to promote the book.
The Midwest often welcomed the Kansas-born aviator during these transcontinental flights. Bernice Hanson, then a schoolteacher in York, Nebraska, recalled the autumn day in 1928 when school was dismissed so that the children could greet the famous flyer.
After a stopover in Atchison, Amelia circled the field looking for the landing strip. She smoothly landed her plane on the carefully mown pasture lined with white flags and taxied over to the cheering crowd. Airplanes, especially those flown by well-known female aviators, were rare sights in York.
“Miss Earhart was a stately looking woman with short blond hair and a ready smile,” Hanson remembered. “She had a firm handshake and her eyes danced as she reached down to hug the little ones in our crowd. It was a wonderful experience for us all.”
Amelia toured the country, sharing her visions for aviation and women. She encouraged women to “strive for goals outside that which is platudinous–and that is one of my best words–known as their own sphere.” She emphasized the importance of preparation in her flights, not introspection. “I don’t believe in the philosophy of worry. Hamlet could never have been a good aviator–he worried too much.” Before ending each lecture, Earhart would express her love of flying. “It is the most modern and most beautiful form of transportation. I fly for aesthetic appreciation, as the lure of flying is beauty.”
More than a thousand Emporians crowded the Lowther Junior High School auditorium on October 13, 1933, to hear the “First Lady of the Air.” Earhart confessed to the audience that she learned how to fly before she learned how to drive a “motorcar.” As she closed, she told the audience, “I hope we may meet sometime on an Atlantic airline.”
Driving her Franklin automobile on a Midwest tour, Earhart addressed an audience at Leavenworth on October 15, 1933 and stopped over in Atchison for a brief rest. “I love the middle west,” Amelia said to a reporter. “When the nose of my plane or my car, is turned westward, I have a feeling of pleasurable excitement.” The next day, Earhart was scheduled for 2:15 p.m. at the Grand Temple in Kansas City, followed by an evening appearance in Lawrence.
Amelia’s hometown reveled when she returned in June 1935 to address the Kansas State Editorial Association convention. A “highly-colored flower parade” featuring a floral float with Amelia and Governor Alf Landon opened the weekend festivities. A mile-long military parade escorted Earhart and Governor Landon to Memorial Hall where she spoke to a crowd of approximately 3,500. Many others who were turned away at the door awaited outside.
In closing, Earhart recalled both the child “who was born in a house on North Second street” and the one “who coasted down that hill I was remembering on the way down here. It has been a pleasant homecoming for us both.”
Dora Marie Ropp, a student at Kansas State Teachers College in Pittsburg, attended Amelia’s speech on October 30, 1935. Reporting for The Alumnian, Ropp said that the aviator “presented a charming and attractive smile to the enthusiastic audience which greeted her at the College Auditorium. Mrs. Putnam’s lecture, which delt (sic) mainly with her Pacific flight was interspersed with many amusing incidents which have happened to her as the world’s most famous woman flier.”
In 1935 Earhart’s love for the Midwest, her hopes for the future of aviation, and an interest in education, led her to accept an appointment at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, as a consultant in the department for the study of careers for women. “Educators in general need to be more practical in their instruction,” Amelia said. “There has never been the synchronization between academic training and the economic world that there could and should be.”
When asked why she chose Purdue, Earhart responded, “It is the middle west, and that is a part of the country in which I am greatly interested. You know, I was born and reared in Kansas.”