Like today’s social current taking women to new heights, Amelia Earhart flew higher — literally — than any woman before her when she rose to 14,000 feet in her open-cockpit biplane, “The Canary,” in 1922.
And now that the particle trail is clearing from another bird — the “Falcon Heavy” from SpaceX — where Gwynne Shotwell serves as president/COO — there’s never been a better time to celebrate a woman who pushed the limits of her time to raise opportunities for females.
First, Earhart was a passenger on a flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1928, and four years later she piloted that flight. Both of those feats were firsts for females. The iconic trailblazer was the first person to fly to the United States mainland from Hawaii and first to fly across both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.
While her expertise may be lost on those who have no connection to the world of aeronautics, it cannot be overstated that the famously independent Earhart had a greater impact on the world at large. She openly defied the stringent limitations of women in her day, when girls were encouraged to pursue domestic life over futures in math, science, and other fields, which were reserved for men.
This is at the heart of Zonta International, a non-profit organization honoring the accomplishments of Amelia Earhart every year, embracing one of their early members for her example of courage and belief in her own abilities. Locally, Zonta Club of Santa Clarita Valley held its meeting last month in honor of Earhart, hearing from book authors and featuring photo displays of the famous aviatrix.
Empowering women locally and worldwide is the group’s mission, aiming to raise the status of females and instill in girls the desire to pursue and reach their goals. Zonta members meet with teens to encourage an interest in STEM fields through their Girls Robotics program, and the club hosts monthly LifeForward Workshops for women, offering topics from economic confidence to self-sufficiency. LunaFest is another signature Zonta event, which is a film festival in May featuring the work of women while raising money for breast cancer victims.
In addition to awarding a number of scholarships and community grants locally, Zonta Club of Santa Clarita has in its district a total of six recipients of the highly prized Amelia Earhart Fellowship. Awarded annually by Zonta International, the $10,000 fellowship supports women pursuing doctorates in aerospace-related sciences or aerospace-related engineering. Since 1938, it has been a part of the non-profit’s effort to grant to women all the resources necessary to earn decision-making positions on an equal basis with men. According to Zonta International, the program has awarded 1,543 Amelia Earhart Fellowships, totaling more than $9.7 million to women representing 72 countries. Fellows have gone on to become astronauts, aerospace engineers, astronomers, professors, geologists, business owners, heads of companies, and even secretary of the United States Air Force.
Of course, women who are not in the fields of math and the sciences are taking flight today, fueled by a passion for new heights of respect and equality. The spirit of the movement may be best understood through a poem written by Amelia Earhart herself in the late 1920s. The fact that a 100-year-old poem still captures the challenge, and the will, of women is a message in itself.
Courage is the price which life exacts for granting peace.
The soul that knows it not, knows no release
From little things;
Knows not the livid loneliness of fear
Nor mountain heights, where bitter joy can hear
The sound of wings.
How can life grant us boon of living, compensate,
For dull gray ugliness and pregnant hate
Unless we dare
The soul’s dominion? Each time we make a choice we pay
With courage to behold resistless day
And count it fair.
Poem from AmeliaEarhartMuseum.org