Great Americans #8 AMELIA EARHART

On the 20th of May, 1932, 34 year old Amelia Earhart left Newfoundland to successfully attempt the world’s first female pilot solo nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. She landed in Ireland the next day, after surviving strong northerly winds, icy conditions and mechanical problems.

When President Hoover presented the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society to Earhart, her modesty looked to me like An Epitome Of Cool.

Hoover: “The whole of America is proud of you and your performance.”

Earhart: “I do thank you sincerely. I fear my exploit was not worth so great an honour.”

When Canadian Joni Mitchell wrote the song, “Amelia”, which might be considered a homage to Earhart, Mitchell wrote during years when what was called liberation had in some ways dampened women’s self-confidence.

Compare the song’s wonderfully sad poetic flights of words with the real flying heroine’s more grounded thoughts:

Earhart’s: “Mostly, my flying has been solo, but the preparation for it wasn’t. Without my husband’s help and encouragement, I could not have attempted what I have. Ours has been a contented and reasonable partnership, he with his solo jobs and I with mine. But always with work and play together, conducted under a satisfactory system of dual control.”

Mitchell: “A ghost of aviation
She was swallowed by the sky
Or by the sea like me she had a dream to fly
Like Icarus ascending
On beautiful foolish arms
Amelia, it was just a false alarm”

Earhart: “Adventure is worthwhile in itself.”

Mitchell: “I’ve spent my whole life in clouds at icy altitudes
And looking down on everything
I crashed into his arms
Amelia, it was just a false alarm.”

Earhart: “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. ……… You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward ……… The most effective way to do it, is to do it.

Mitchell: “The drone of flying engines
Is a song so wild and blue
It scrambles time and seasons if it gets through to you
Then your life becomes a travelogue
Full of picture post card charms
Amelia, it was just a false alarm.”

Earhart: “Women, like men, should try to do the impossible. And when they fail, their failure should be a challenge to others.”

Mitchell: “So this is how I hide the hurt
As the road leads cursed and charmed
I tell Amelia it was just a false alarm.”

Mitchell’s flights in the sixties and seventies were defined by grappling with loneliness. Earhart’s solo efforts were built on collaboration and modest acceptance of even presidential recognition.

Times change.

Geoff Fox, 20th May, 2023, Down Under