Maureen: Hi, I’m Maureen from the National Postal Museum.
Beth: I’m Beth from the National Portrait Gallery.
Maureen: Welcome to Stamp Stories, where we explore topics that appear on postage stamps.
New postage stamps come out every year on a wide variety of topics. Today we’re going to learn about the famous pilot Amelia Earhart.
Beth: Amelia Earhart did many important things during her life. Let’s take a look at a few portraits of this pioneering woman from the National Portrait Gallery’s collection.
Beth: This is Amelia Earhart. She lived a very exciting life! What is the most exciting thing you’ve done? For Amelia Earhart, the first time she flew in an airplane, she was thrilled. In fact, as we look at this photograph, we see Amelia Earhart confidently smiling as she stands under the metal body of an airplane. She wears a leather jacket and her signature scarf around her neck. She looks ready to take flight. Her first flight only lasted about 10 minutes, but she later said, “By the time I had got two or three hundred feet off the ground, I knew I had to fly.” But there was a problem: the year was 1920, and women were supposed to be quiet and proper, not fly airplanes!
Do you think Amelia Earhart let that stop her? Of course not! She found someone to teach her to fly and learned everything she needed to know to be a pilot. She practiced going higher and further, until in 1923 she became the sixteenth woman to receive a pilot’s license.
Amelia Earhart had many jobs. She was a nurse, a teacher, a social worker, and a writer, but the job she loved most was aviator.
An aviator is a pilot, or someone who flies an airplane. Earhart flew airplanes as often as she could. Then, in 1928, she traveled by airplane with two other men from North America, across the Atlantic Ocean, to Great Britain. No woman had ever flown across the Atlantic Ocean before!
This portrait shows the welcome Earhart and her companions received when they arrived in Britain. Notice their helmets and thick clothing – it is cold way up where they flew! Cold and dangerous!
Many people were thrilled when Earhart and her companions landed. We can see lots of smiles in this photograph. Earhart later confessed that she was a bit disappointed. She had been the mechanic and copilot on the flight, so she did not get to fly the plane. She said she sat like a sack of potatoes. She wanted to fly, and she wanted other women to be able to fly, too!
For the next few years Amelia Earhart organized groups and events for women pilots, and she spoke out against groups and competitions that did not allow women to fly with them. At the same time, she broke many flying records, doing things no woman pilot had done before. Still, she never forgot feeling like a sack of potatoes. In 1932, she completed another transatlantic flight, this time by herself!
Transatlantic means her airplane flew from one side of the Atlantic Ocean to the other side. The flight lasted nearly 15 hours. She overcame strong winds, freezing weather, and problems with her airplane to become the second person and the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic.
This portrait shows her reception when she arrived back in the United States.
In this portrait, she holds an enormous bouquet as she stands in a car, smiling and waving to the crowd that has gathered to see one of the world’s most famous pilots. Behind her we see some of the people gathered to congratulate her.
After her transatlantic flight, there were parades like this in Earhart’s honor, she met the president, and she received numerous awards for her bravery.
Amelia Earhart bravely did what women had not been allowed to do and proved that women were capable of more than people believed. Before her final flight, she told her husband, “Please know I am quite aware of the hazards. I want to do it because I want to do it. Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.”
So how did Amelia Earhart become such a brave pilot? Let’s read more about her story! Special thanks to author Mary Nhin and Grow Grit Press, LLC for permission to use this book.
Amelia Earhart by Mary Nhin. Pictures by Yuliia Zolotova.
Hi, I’m Amelia Earhart.
I didn’t have a very traditional childhood. In my day, little girls were supposed to wear dresses and behave ‘nicely,’ but by mother believed strongly in gender equality.
Maureen: This dress might be a better option.
Beth: I like these overalls.
Maureen: Yes, I like those on you, too, Amelia.
Beth: She dressed us in pants instead of skirts. She let us climb trees and catch frogs as we pleased.
I even built a little ramp on the shed roof and slid down it in a box. I got a lot of bruises, but to me it was exciting. It was my first taste of flying!
Maureen: What’s she doing?
Beth: Oh, you know, she’s just doing what little girls do.
When I was old enough, I saved up for flying lessons by working, but it wasn’t easy.
Hi, are you hiring?
Maureen: Yes, but we’re only hiring boys.
Beth: Hi, are you hiring?
Maureen: Sorry, we’re not hiring girls.
Beth: I arrived at the airfield for training, and I saw how few women there were there.
I was taught that you get in life what you have the courage to ask for.
I knew I was being judged for my feminine appearance, so I distressed my flying jacket to make me look more experienced. I cut my hair short, too.
Maureen: Oh, wow! Look, a girl.
Beth: When I finally finished my training, I was only the sixteenth woman in the US to ever have obtained a pilot’s license.
Maureen: Can you believe it? She’s a girl, and she can fly!
Beth: And so young.
My pioneering story almost ended there when I suffered from ill health. When I ran out of money, I had to sell my plane. I even had to cancel my plans of going to the university because I simply couldn’t afford it. People thought I had failed.
Maureen: That’s too bad.
Beth: She was a good pilot.
I knew in my heart that if I wanted something, I had to work hard to get it. I began writing for papers and magazines to encourage more women to fly. This is how I earned a living as a writer and could afford to keep flying.
I worked hard to get here. I couldn’t just give up. Even when no one else believed, I had to believe in myself.
Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail, their failure must be but a challenge to others.
I set my sights on the unknown, wanting to be one of the best pilots in history. I attempted dangerous feats never done before.
Never do things others can do and will do if there are things others cannot do or will not do.
I was the first woman to fly alone across the Atlantic Ocean, and I set lots of world records throughout my career. I inspired many women in the US to achieve their dreams of flying just like I did. People had told me that I would fail, but I wasn’t afraid to try.
The most effective way to do it, is to do it.
Maureen: The book we just read gave us a wonderful introduction to Amelia Earhart’s life. The Smithsonian is lucky to have a lot of objects in its collections that are part of Amelia Earhart’s story.
This is one Amelia Earhart’s flight suits. It is on display at the National Postal Museum. Have you ever been on a passenger airplane, or maybe seen a picture or video of an airplane pilot from today? The clothes pilots wear in modern planes look very different from this suit. That’s because planes are now much more protected from the outside air than early planes were. Amelia Earhart had to be prepared to fly in cold or rainy weather, and her flight clothing showed that. She also wore goggles like the ones you see here to protect her eyes while she was flying.
Flying at this time was very expensive and Earhart used mail to raise money for her flights. After she crossed the Atlantic Ocean as a passenger she became very famous, and people would pay to have her carry their mail on her flights. This envelope is one of those pieces of mail. Does anything look unusual about it? Take a look at the stamps and the postmarks. Postmarks show information about where and when a letter or package is mailed. The mail Amelia Earhart carried was often unique because she would get it postmarked at the place where her flights started and where they ended. This envelope from 1935 has postmarks from Newark, New Jersey and from Mexico. It also has both US and Mexican stamps on it, even though letters only need stamps from the country where they are mailed. Earhart would also sometimes sign the envelopes, which made them even more valuable. People saved envelopes like these, and we have some in our collection at the Postal Museum.
The envelope we just looked at was from a record-setting flight Earhart made from Mexico to New York. Earhart was very famous around the world by then and Mexico was honored to be part of her achievement. They did a special issue of an airmail stamp that added the words on it "Vuelo de Buena Voluntad.” Flight of Goodwill.
Amelia Earhart was honored many times during her lifetime and after, with medals and trophies, and even with a stamp of her own! In 1963 the USPS issued this stamp with her image on it. What details do you notice about the artwork on this stamp? You can see she's wearing flight clothes and there is a plane behind her. This is an airmail stamp, which seems like a perfect choice to honor her!
The last museum object we're going to look is on display at the National Air and Space Museum. This is Amelia Earhart’s Lockheed Vega 5B. She affectionately called this plane “Old Bessie, the fire horse.” This type of airplane was designed to be faster than other planes built around the same time, and many pilots who wanted to set speed or distance records liked this plane. In 1932 Earhart flew Old Bessie alone across the Atlantic Ocean, and then later flew it nonstop across the United States - both firsts for a woman. These are just two of the many aviation records that Amelia Earhart set while piloting her famous bright red plane.
Beth: Amelia Earhart was such a fascinating and inspirational person. It was great to explore her story through a book and museum objects. You can find more portraits of Amelia Earhart, and so many other important people, on the National Portrait Gallery’s website. Thank you, Maureen, for letting me join you today.
Maureen: Thank you so much, Beth, and thank you to our audience for joining us today for Stamp Stories. You can also learn more about Amelia Earhart, and many other topics, by visiting the National Postal Museum’s website. We encourage you to just keep exploring!