East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart

By Susan Butler | Go to book overview

flying. There was the incredible thrill of being in the air, the heady sense of accomplishing something people had been dreaming about at least since Icarus.

To women, though, flying was something more. Still hemmed in by all sorts of restrictions, still valued for looks and decorative skills, still steered toward passive accomplishments, for women it was the ultimate escape: total freedom, total mastery -- no interference. Total liberation. Women who became pilots won something additional along the way: respect.

Amelia Earhart was the looming, absent genius of our household. When her name came up, it usually caused a reflective pause in the conversation -- she was obviously so special. My mother had known her only slightly. I always wanted to know what kind of a person she was, why she was so famous, what kind of a life she really lived. I read Amelia's books, and the books about her. They didn't satisfy my curiosity. They just whetted my appetite. I decided to research her life, and I found out that not only was Amelia an amazing flier, easily the greatest female pilot of her time, but that she was a person of judgment and integrity with a strong sense of mission -- that she had started out as a social worker and had gradually become as single-mindedly dedicated to improving the status of women as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Margaret Sanger.

Appearances are deceiving. Her contemporaries knew Amelia Earhart in all her permutations: as fashion plate, as lecturer, as educator, and of course as flier. But the passage of time has winnowed away everything except "pilot," so that what comes down to us across the years is the image of a tousle-haired androgynous flier clad in shirt, silk scarf, leather jacket, and goggles. Those alive when she was saw much more -- the famous Steichen photo that appeared in Vanity Fair showing a chic, slender, contemplative woman; the news photos of her as she testified before congressional committees; and clips of her on the lecture circuit, where she spent the greater part of her time. Although it was her piloting skills that made her famous, Amelia was much more than just a pilot -- that was why she was so much missed.

So I started on her trail. I spent days at the Schlesinger Library, where the Earhart papers are. I interviewed Fay Gillis Wells, one of the original members of the Ninety-Nines. I pored through the old newspapers she gave me. In one of them I found a reference to Amelia's beloved cousin, Kathryn (Katch) Challiss. It gave Katch's married name, and through that I tracked her down. I interviewed her for the first time ever, and when she died, her daughter Pat Antich gave me her diaries and the diaries of her sister Lucy, who lived with Amelia for several years. In the diaries were endless entries mentioning Amelia. Another cousin gave me the personal

-xii-

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East to the Dawn: The Life of Amelia Earhart
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents ix
  • Preface xi
  • Part One 1
  • 1 - Colonial Heritage 3
  • 2 - Kansas Girl 27
  • 3 - The End of Childhood 46
  • 4 - Teenage Years 68
  • 5 - A Life of Purpose and Action 82
  • 6 - California 92
  • 7 - Breaking Through 116
  • Part Two 141
  • 8 - Dreams of Glory 143
  • 9 - Vortex 162
  • 10 - Trepassey 176
  • 11 - Golden Girl 199
  • 12 - Dreams Come True 225
  • 13 - Courtship and Marriage 241
  • 14 - The Lindbergh Trail 256
  • 15 - Having Her Cake 274
  • 16 - Role Model 298
  • Part Three 319
  • 17 - New Records 321
  • 18 - New Frontiers 336
  • 19 - The Plan 356
  • 20 - The Beginning 379
  • 21 - The Flight 391
  • 22 - Lost 401
  • 23 - Later 412
  • Notes 423
  • Sources 465
  • Acknowledgments 473
  • Index 475
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