Episode 8: Amelia Earhart Part II: The Lady’s Legacy

There’s more than one way to find Amelia Earhart. An explorer could launch an expedition and comb every inch of the seafloor in the South Pacific, but the best place to look might be much closer than you think.

After her second transatlantic flight, Earhart continued to set out on record-breaking trips. Only two months after returning to America in June 1932, she became the first woman to fly solo across the North American continent and back. She also found time for other projects, especially those that advanced women’s progress in society. During this period she became close friends with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962). The two women shared a similar sense of independence and supported each other’s causes. Inspired by Earhart’s example, Roosevelt wanted to obtain a pilot’s license, although her husband rejected the idea. Earhart was a frequent visitor to the White House and was likewise influenced by Roosevelt. She supported the first lady’s efforts to improve the lives of working women and joined her campaign to promote world peace.
Photograph by National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; gift of George R. Rinhart, in memory of Joan Rinhart

Behind her modest smile and windblown charm, Amelia Earhart was a rarity in the 1930s: A fiercely confident woman with a dream to fly. Her adventurous spirit went well beyond setting records as a pilot— her true goal was perhaps equality for women. This is a different Amelia, which might explain why the mystery of her disappearance remains unsolved; explorers are looking in the wrong place.

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CHILD: I am Amelia Earhart! I am a famous pilot.

AMY BRIGGS (HOST): More than 80 years after Amelia Earhart disappeared, she still occupies a place in our imaginations.

CHILD: As a girl and woman, people told me I would not be able to do things that I wanted to do, like flying.

BRIGGS: For this eight-year-old in New Jersey, Amelia Earhart is a badass.

CHILD: Amelia’s mother did not want her to be just a nice little girl. She wanted her to be …

BRIGGS: Listen to her voice. It’s filled with the same fearless enthusiasm as Amelia’s.

CHILD: She even shot rats with a gun!

BRIGGS: Suddenly, the details of the mystery vanish. The distress calls, the missing plane, the competing theories, the endless search for evidence. They all fall away.

And for a few minutes, Earhart is embodied—and alive—before our eyes and ears. Finally understood for who she is. Not some lost soul, but a powerful and vibrant person. A role model.

CHILD: Instead of being scared, she was “exhilarated,” she said.

BRIGGS: In the Earhart family, role models are easy to come by. I had the privilege of traveling to Amelia’s birthplace in Atchison, Kansas, and speaking to one of Amelia’s remarkable descendents: Amy Kleppner, Amelia’s niece.

AMY KLEPPNER (AMELIA EARHART’S NIECE): She was my mother's sister, so my aunt.

BRIGGS: And, right away, Amy Kleppner became a role model—for me.

I've been looking over your family history, and there seems to be something amazing about the women in your family.

AMY KLEPPNER: Well I’m not sure I describe them as amazing. Other than Amelia Earhart—she was certainly amazing.

BRIGGS: Amy Kleppner’s modesty is typical of the no-nonsense Earhart women.

AMY KLEPPNER: I don’t think either my grandmother or my mother, you would not describe them as amazing.

BRIGGS: Amy Kleppner recently “sailed past” her 90th birthday, according to her son, Bram, who you’ll hear from in a minute. In many ways, her life is as pioneering as her aunt’s: Amy was one of the first women to earn a Ph.D. from Columbia University in philosophy. She is strong, as energetic as she was when she hiked Half Dome in Yosemite on her 63rd birthday, or when she kayaked over 350 miles down the Connecticut River on her 78th birthday, or when she trekked a hundred miles through Great Britain when she turned 85. I mean, you get the idea. Simply put, amazing.

AMY KLEPPNER: Quite sufficient.

BRIGGS: When you talk to the Earhart family, competing disappearance theories don’t really come up. Instead, you get a chance to talk about Amelia herself. The person.

BRAM KLEPPNER (AMELIA EARHART’S GREAT-NEPHEW): If they know anything about Amelia Earhart, what most people know, the extent of it is, she flew airplanes and she disappeared. They don’t know anything about her career as a feminist. And all the work she did to advance education for girls and women and women’s careers. And in gender equality in this country. And I think that’s part of who Amelia was that the family is sort of much more aware than the public is.

BRIGGS: Bram Kleppner, Amelia’s great-nephew, is describing an Amelia Earhart that many people never hear about. When she is recharacterized this way—as a fighter for equality—she is no longer some captive waiting to be rescued from Saipan, or the damsel under the ren tree, as we heard in the last episode.

No, because that’s not who she really was.

To find out what happened to Amelia, you don’t need to sift through archaeological evidence on Nikumaroro.

TOM KING (AMELIA EARHART SEARCHER): So my relationship to her is like the relationship of a paleontologist to his dinosaur.

BRIGGS: And you certainly don’t need to chase down housewives in New Jersey.

FRED HIEBERT (NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC ARCHAEOLOGIST): The castaway hypothesis people are at 95 percent. The crash-in-the-ocean people are at 95 percent.

BRIGGS: On this episode, we’re going to find out what happened to Amelia … by getting to know her. We’re going to rediscover Amelia Earhart ... as the protagonist of her own story.


A tremendously capable woman with a very specific agenda.

AMY KLEPPNER: Equality of women first in aviation, equality of women in general, equal pay for equal work. The opening of occupations which women had previously been barred. That was her agenda. And basically she was fighting for equality.

BRIGGS: It is this Amelia who is mysteriously missing from almost every version of her last flight. In fact, the remains of Amelia Earhart that explorers are searching for are actually not so hard to find. Her DNA is everywhere. You just heard a little snippet of her in the voice of that eight-year-old from New Jersey.

What our search today reveals to us—with 100 percent certainty—is that Amelia Earhart is still very much among us.

I’m Amy Briggs, executive editor of National Geographic History magazine, and this is Overheard at National Geographic. A show where we eavesdrop on the wild conversations we have here at Nat Geo and follow them to the edges of our big, weird, beautiful world.

On the first episode in our series, you heard about the eight-decade mystery surrounding Amelia Earhart’s disappearance.

On this episode, we’re charting a new course for Amelia. One where she actually completes her circumnavigation of the globe and travels all the way into the 21st century. Finally, as the pilot of her own narrative.

More after the break.

PRESIDENT HERBERT HOOVER: Her success has not been won by the selfish pursuit of purely personal ambition. But as a part of her career, generously animated by a wish also to enlarge those opportunities by expanding the powers of women as well as men in their ever widening limits.

BRIGGS: This is President Herbert Hoover in 1932. He’s presenting an award to Amelia.

HOOVER: The nation is proud that an American woman should be the first woman in history to fly an aeroplane across the Atlantic Ocean. As their spokesman, I take pride and pleasure in conferring this, the rarely bestowed medal of the National Geographic Society, upon Mrs. Amelia Earhart Putnam.

BRIGGS: This was only the seventh time this National Geographic special Gold Medal had been given to anyone, and it was the first time it was given to a woman. Amelia had joined the ranks of Commander Robert Peary and Admiral Byrd. The honor? For being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, alone.

AMELIA EARHART (AVIATRIX): I am deeply grateful. I have no words in which to express my appreciation to you and to the National Geographic Society. I fear that is too great an honor for my exploit.

BRIGGS: In true modest Earhart fashion, she insists that it is merely an “exploit.” History would disagree.

EARHART:Four years ago I went on the Friendship and had, as has been said … was simply a passenger. In England I was referred to as a sack of potatoes. That probably inspired me to try it alone.

BRIGGS: Did you hear her nervous laugh in there? I mean, I think that gives something away: a little touch of embarrassment. The Friendship that Amelia refers to? That’s the 1928 Friendship Flight, which was the first time Amelia crossed the Atlantic in a plane. So, yes, she’s technically the “first woman to cross the Atlantic,” and she became famous for it. But she never flew that plane, she sat in the back. A sack of potatoes, so it was said.

It was quickly dismissed for what it was—a gimmick—and that humiliation became a defining moment for Amelia Earhart. It was at that point that she raised the bar for herself—and for others. Not only would she refuse to be a mere passenger ever again, she asked women to do the same for themselves. Her 1932 solo flight across the Atlantic was a clear signal that she was no longer interested in being along for the ride.

Amelia and her sister, Muriel, got a taste for adventure at an early age.

BRAM KLEPPNER: Amelia and Muriel’s mother, Amy Otis, let her kids run around with a rifle and climb trees and get dirty and do all sorts of things that young girls at the time didn’t commonly do. But she herself had been one of the first women to make it to the top of Pikes Peak in Colorado. It certainly shows a certain amount of physical courage and adventurousness and so forth.

BRIGGS: Like her mother before her, Amelia developed a passion for taking risks. Even as a very young girl in Atchison.

SUSAN BUTLER (AUTHOR): Atchison was a sleepy town on the Missouri River. She was surrounded by cousins—first cousins, second cousins, third cousins.

BRIGGS: Susan Butler, who wrote East to the Dawn, a seminal biography on Earhart—you should pick it up if you’re interested—interviewed many of those cousins, including one named Katch Challiss. Katch recalled how they acted out many wild adventures. One of them was based on a mythical poem, called Atalanta and Calydon. It was Amelia’s favorite.

BUTLER: It was a poem about a warrior woman, a mythological woman who saved her kingdom by arming herself and killing the boar that was menacing the kingdom. She said that Amelia had memorized it as a child, and it was so important to Amelia that she memorized it.

BRIGGS: Atalanta, the warrior woman, vowed to remain unmarried at all costs. And that went for Amelia too—it was one risk she wasn’t willing to take.

BUTLER: Amelia had decided at a very young age she was never going to get married, or at least, if she did get married, she wasn’t going to be a stay-at-home, obedient mom. She was going to have a life of her own of purpose and action.

BRIGGS: Amelia’s young adult life was filled with finding that purpose and action. She left home in search of adventure, working as a nurse during World War I in Canada. There, she got to know a new group of adventurers: aviators. And her lifelong fascination with flying began.

She took her first plane ride in 1920 in Long Beach, California, and started taking flying lessons with another aviatrix, Neta Snook. I mean, isn’t that the best name?

Before long, Amelia had set her first record: Reaching 14,000 feet, she broke the women’s altitude record. It was pure thrill. She would go on to break a dozen more records—for distance, speed, altitude. She even bested herself.

BUTLER: She had never thought of it as a profession. She just thought it was a great deal of fun.

BRIGGS: But in 1924, Amelia’s parents divorced. Her family’s financial instability, and her father’s alcoholism—something he had battled for years—forced Amelia to move to Boston, where she helped to support her mother and sister.

BUTLER: She had been studying to be a doctor, and she didn’t really have the money to become a doctor.

BRIGGS: School was no longer an option for Amelia, so she had to go to work. Once in Boston, she dedicated herself to life as a settlement house worker (what today, we’d call a social worker), where she worked to help new immigrants adjust to life in the U.S.

TJ BOISSEAU (PROFESSOR): Settlement house work was definitely a very progressive and respectable profession.

BRIGGS: TJ Boisseau is professor of women’s gender and sexuality studies at Purdue University. She describes how Amelia’s agenda—early on—was geared towards working on behalf of others.

BOISSEAU: She made sure of that, and I admire her for that, for making sure that her life had a meaning that went beyond herself.

BRIGGS: Although Amelia continued to fly airplanes while working at Denison House in Boston, she did on the side. And even as her notoriety grew, the social work stayed with her. According to Susan Butler, it was her passion.

BUTLER: If anything, she was obsessed with being a social worker. She took as her role in life the fact that she should act as an agent for social change for women. So Amelia had found her niche by the time that she was picked to be the passenger on the Friendship Flight.

BRIGGS: See, there’s that Friendship Flight again—the sitting-in-the-backseat, sack-of-potatoes flight in 1928. Amelia was chosen from a short list of female pilots for this flight by George Palmer Putnam, an American publisher and promoter extraordinaire. Hot on the heels of Charles Lindberg’s transatlantic 1927 flight (which was huge), Putnam was eager to feed the public’s appetite for airplanes—which was growing more ravenous with every new record broken.

So Putnam set his sights on Amelia. And, surprisingly, the feeling was mutual.

With a business partner like George Putnam by her side, Amelia found herself with opportunities. And with those opportunities came influence. Even though the Friendship Flight was kind of lame, it did send Amelia in a new direction.

She could finally do things that women—and very few men—had done. It was a personal revolution. And as a revolutionary, she’d have the chance to confront some very old ways of thinking.

BOISSEAU: So there’s still the idea that that is really rife in the late 19th century that women’s reproductive organs are attached to their intellectual capacities, so that if they strain themselves either physically or they strain themselves intellectually with too much education or too much learning, you know, that this will impede their ability to reproduce, to become mothers.

BRIGGS: The antidote to this very backwards mindset? Flying. With one deft move, Amelia started changing minds about what women could do. And sure, there was still skepticism...

BOISSEAU: But it is far outweighed by just public excitement for her ascending to the heavens. Similar to becoming an astronaut, I would say there was nothing that was more symbolic of being modern, of being empowered, of being free, and of being heroic than flying.

BRIGGS: The adventure that Amelia sought was the adventure that came with finding new paths to equality for women. And that was uncharted territory at that time.

BOISSEAU: She really was a feminist. There’s no doubt in my mind about that.

BRIGGS: Amelia had planted a seed of what gender equality could look like. And the seed began to sprout quickly ... along with her popularity.

1928 was dubbed the “Year of the Woman” by the press. We had won the right to vote eight years earlier, but the 1928 presidential election was the first time that women were expected to have real influence on the outcome. By the time the welcome home parades were over for Amelia’s Friendship Flight, Herbert Hoover was elected.

Ah … Hoover.

Many women—including Amelia—had high hopes for the guy, expecting him to push through progressive new legislation, including the Equal Rights Amendment.

And guess what? It didn’t happen.

Amelia met with Hoover, hoping to rally him to the cause. The words she said to him in 1932 may sound all too familiar:

DIANA TRUJILLO (JPL MISSION LEAD / AS AMELIA EARHART): Mr. Hoover, I know from practical experience of discrimination that confront women when they enter an occupation where men have priority in opportunity, advancement, and protection.

BRIGGS: That’s the voice of Diana Trujillo as Amelia Earhart. Diana knows all about occupations where men have priority in opportunity. She’s an aerospace engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Diana is a superstar in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field; she is one of the mission ;eads in NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover.

Talk about a badass.

You’re going to hear Diana reading Amelia’s words today. That’s because she’s part of Amelia’s aeronautic legacy. Diana came to the U.S. from Cali,.Colombia, at 17 with 300 dollars in her pocket, a knack for math, and relentless ambition.

Need proof of Amelia’s DNA being all around us? Just look at Diana’s hard-won, against-all-odds accomplishments in this field.

It’s that DNA that makes women fight to be taken seriously, and to be treated as equals.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, Amelia’s conversation with Herbert Hoover back in 1932, that didn’t move the needle for women—legislatively speaking—whatsoever. That change would have to come from elsewhere.

But then—wouldn’t you know it—something happened that would change Amelia’s outlook, forever.

More after the break.

BOISSEAU: It appears that George Putnam fell madly in love with Amelia Earhart.

BRIGGS: Love! A trap that Amelia had vowed she would never fall into was suddenly staring her in the face.

BOISSEAU: From every bit of evidence we have, it appears that he absolutely loved her and wanted to see her succeed for herself as well as, you know, for his own career purposes, and agreed to all of the conditions that she laid out when she married him.

BRIGGS: The conditions? Well, the conditions presented by Amelia were pretty hard core, even by today’s standards. On the morning of their wedding, this is the letter she gave him.

TRUJILLO (AS EARHART): Dear GPP, there are some things that should be writ before we are married, things we have talked over before. You must know again my reluctance to marry. I feel the move just now as foolish as anything I could do. I must exact a cruel promise, and that is you will let me go in a year if we find no happiness together. I will try to do my best in every way and give you that part of me you know and seem to want. — AE

BRIGGS: Woah. Now that’s what I call a prenup. These are not the words of a starry-eyed blushing bride. They are the sentiments of someone trying to avoid how she saw marriage: as a confinement.

And as if that weren’t enough, the letter further details that Amelia and GPP should both be free to see other people and not adhere to what she called “any medieval code of faithfulness.” They would keep everything private and away from public scrutiny.

When Amelia drew that line in the sand, it was her way of remembering her inner warrior from her childhood: the huntress Atalanta, whom she had aspired to be.

BOISSEAU: She makes it clear in her personal papers that she loves him to a point. And the point was the limit on her own personal freedom, and she was not willing to go beyond it. And I just think that that tells volumes.

BRIGGS: Amelia and GPP’s marriage did not get in the way of her freedom. Far from it. He worked tirelessly on her behalf, and together, they put the naysayers to rest. Because the very next flight she took was crossing the Atlantic. This time, flying solo.

BOISSEAU: When she proved herself in 1932 with a transatlantic flight that she herself piloted, and after that, that kind of condescension and patronizing tone grew far more mute.

BRIGGS: And Amelia’s career was launched into the stratosphere. She became a worldwide celebrity, which gave her a megaphone … and access to power.

BOISSEAU: She did a lot of political work using her celebrities to gain access to the White House, to Eleanor Roosevelt, to make the public aware that an ERA and rights for women in general had not been fully achieved by the achievement of suffrage.

BRIGGS: Amelia’s friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt was legendary. In 1933 Amelia reportedly cut short a stuffy dinner party at the White House, and the two of them took a flight to Baltimore and back. All while wearing evening gowns.

Things had changed for the kid from Atchison. Susan Butler explains.

BUTLER: She was sort of Oprah Winfrey, Gloria Steinem, all rolled into one. George Palmer Putnam had her booked all over the United States. In 1936 she made 136 lectures crisscrossing the country. She had two messages. Her message when she was talking to mixed men and women was to promote flying. But when she was talking to women’s groups, she was promoting careers for women.

BRIGGS: Amelia had a knack for crafting her public persona and writing her own story. And that even included attempting to maintain control of her name—which wasn’t easy.

TRUJILLO (AS EARHART): Dear Mr. Sulzberger

BRIGGS: She wrote to the publisher of the New York Times.

TRUJILLO (AS EARHART): May I make a request of the Times through you? Despite the mild expression of my wishes and those of GPP, I’m constantly referred to as Mrs. Putnam when the Times mentions me in its column, I admit that I have no principle to uphold when I ask for my professional name in print. However, it is for many reasons more convenient for both of us to be called Amelia Earhart.

BRIGGS: Her request seems reasonable enough by today’s standards. But at the time, most married women did not keep their birth names. In fact, taking their husband’s name was practically forced upon them legally.

And so, even though she was widely known as the “most famous aviatrix,” whose birth name undoubtedly helped sell many copies of the New York Times back then, her request would fall on deaf ears.

As a changemaker, Amelia’s carefully constructed image had everything to do with freedom … and having it as a woman.

BOISSEAU: So for instance, she’s the first female celebrity to have her own line of luggage.

BRIGGS: Although luggage might not seem like a progressive product, in the 1930s it was.

BOISSEAU: And what’s the most important piece of luggage in that line of luggage was the weekender bag. And it’s meant to hold cosmetics and a change of clothes and some underwear and some toiletries for a couple of days.

BRIGGS: A woman with a weekender bag was able to travel without a trunk, which meant without a man to carry it, which meant that she would be able to move about as she pleased. TJ Boisseau considers the weekender bag to be a symbol of a kind of sexual revolution.

BOISSEAU: She meant that in a very serious way to convey her commitment to women’s sexual liberation. That they could sleep with whomever they chose. They could go wherever they chose.

BRIGGS: That is one radical piece of luggage.

Amelia’s encouragement of women—to push, to excel, to resist definition—was relentless. By forging ahead on her own terms, she created paths that women could follow.

And the way that she reached the women she wanted to influence was always going to be tied to the thing that she was known for: being a pilot. Which was perhaps the most audacious feat of all.

BOISSEAU: Because it carried so much symbolic weight. We do keep having to remind ourselves and the public at large and the next generation that what was really remarkable about her is what it meant to be a pilot in that period of time and that it meant something more than really just flying a plane.

BRIGGS: Amelia understood this, of course. Even though she often said she flew planes “for the fun of it,” she was more aware than anyone of the dangers involved. She seemed to understand that one day, the risks she took to advance women’s equality would get the best of her.

It’s no coincidence that Professor Boisseau was the inaugural Ameila Earhart Faculty-in-Residence at Purdue University.

BOISSEAU: I’m sort of in the ground zero of Amelia Earhart fandom here at Purdue.

BRIGGS: Amelia has had fans at Purdue for decades. She was invited there in 1935 as a lecturer and advisor. See, many young female students in universities back then, they would go to college, work hard, and then spend the rest of their lives taking care of their husbands and children. The so-called “M-R-S degree.”

And we all know how Amelia felt about that.

So, her time at Purdue was spent advising young women how to have careers instead. I mean, can you imagine having Amelia Earhart as your adviser? How inspiring would that be?

Ultimately, Amelia saw this job as an opportunity—believe it or not—to get out of flying and settle into … a desk job. According to Amelia’s niece, Amy Kleppner, Amelia was ready for life as a civilian.

AMY KLEPPNER: I think that really would have been what she wanted to do, had she returned from that flight. She said she was going to retire from long-distance flying. She really enjoyed very much the time she spent at Purdue. Purdue was very enthusiastic about her work there.

In fact, Amelia said as much herself. In 1937, as she prepared for her final, epic journey, she wrote this.

TRUJILLO (AS EARHART): Here was shining adventure beckoning with new experiences, adding knowledge of flying, of people, of myself. I felt then with the flying behind me, I will be more useful to me and to the program we planned at Purdue. Then too, there was my belief that now and then women should do for themselves what men have already done and occasionally what men have not done, thereby establishing themselves as persons and perhaps encouraging other women towards greater independence of thought and action.

BRIGGS: In the end, Amelia was an Earhart, through and through. Her urge for independence required taking risks; it was a part of the family’s imperative.

So, what do you think it is about Amelia Earhart that inspires so much passion, excitement, or obsession in the larger world?

AMY KLEPPNER: Well, I think it was the spirit of adventure that really distinguished her. That she was a strong, independent woman. Now popular culture is much more accepting of strong independent women than it was.

BRIGGS: I’ve got to say, Amy Kleppner really nails it there. We are much more accepting of strong, independent women now. And why? Because of women like Amelia Earhart.

BUTLER: I think she’s the most important role model for young American women.

BRIGGS: That's really interesting. Why do you give her that position?

BUTLER: Well because every time that I was giving talks on Amelia Earhart after I wrote the book, I found young women all over the United States emailing me about how important she was. She simply had a wonderful life, and she spent her time trying to get women to become more independent and take more responsibility for themselves.

BRIGGS: Over the course of speaking with so many people about the story of Amelia Earhart, I found that there were people who deeply admire Amelia’s political legacy—the one that has to do with equality. They see it as one that continues, despite the fact that she tragically went missing.

Then there is another group of people—the searchers of Amelia—who look at her legacy quite differently. When I asked Ric Gillespie—a “castaway theory” proponent who we heard from in the last episode—about how Amelia would feel about the searching, he said this.

RIC GILLESPIE (AMELIA SEARCHER): She would love the attention. She’d love it. Amelia always wanted to feel special.

But there is something that separates this second group from the first. Something rather obvious once you see it.

AMY KLEPPNER: The searchers are all men.

BRAM KLEPPNER: Yeah, it’s a really interesting question. I never thought about it before, but it is true, the searchers are … is it 100 percent? Do we know any female searchers?

AMY KLEPPNER: I don’t know any female searchers.

BRAM KLEPPNER: The searchers are all men. Wow.

BRIGGS: Are the searchers responsible for keeping Amelia’s story alive? Perhaps. But despite their efforts, it’s unlikely, albeit possible, that another expedition will reveal a satisfying end to this mystery.

BUTLER: I hope Amelia Earhart is found, no matter where she is.

BRIGGS: Susan Butler is onto something there.

The last chapter of this tantalizing whodunnit didn’t take place near a tiny Pacific atoll—or the deep waters surrounding it. Amelia’s legacy exists along a very different line of position.

She’s much closer than you think.

In fact, the final, indisputable clues of where to find Amelia exist somewhere inside her own story. In her own words.

EARHART: The flight has added nothing to aviation. After all, literally hundreds have crossed the Atlantic by air if we count those who have gone heavier than air, lighter than air…

BRIGGS: When Amelia received that National Geographic Gold Medal from Herbert Hoover, she made her case to women in no uncertain terms.

EARHART: I hope that the flight has meant something to women in aviation.

BRIGGS: And it may not have been obvious to the men in the audience.

EARHART: If it has, I should feel it justified,

BRIGGS: This piece of evidence has been overlooked and unexamined for decades.

EARHART: But I can’t claim anything else.

BRIGGS: The modesty of her sentiment—like the Earhart women who came before and after her—says volumes.

Did Amelia’s work mean something to women in aviation?

Diana Trujillo answers that question definitively. Her work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a direct extension of a history that Amelia helped to build, and still has implications for the future.

But—if that brings us to 95 percent certainty—we find ourselves continuing to ask the question, How do we get to 100 percent?

The final chapter of the Earhart mystery contains one last clue to her whereabouts.

Before Amelia set off on her fateful round-the-world flight, she gave her husband another letter. This time, it was only to be opened if she did not return.

In a hard-to-read chicken scratch, which may have been hastily scribbled down, given the thousands of things she had to prepare for before she took off, here is what she wrote to him.

“Please know, I am quite aware of the hazards of the trip. 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 achievements must be but a challenge to others.”

This sentiment belonged to Amelia. But it also belongs to me, and to so many millions of others.

Now, more than 80 years later, we can thank our ability to choose a career, an education, whether or not we marry, what we are called—heck, even what luggage we buy—as challenges that were accepted by the multitudes who believe as much as Amelia did in equality.

Her legacy—being reignited and pushed forward by new Amelias all the time—is not lost at sea, awaiting discovery.

No. I’d say it’s alive and well. And inside of all of us.

If you like what you hear and want to support more content like this, please rate and review us in your podcast app AND consider a National Geographic subscription. That’s the best way to support Overheard. Go to natgeo.com/explore to subscribe.

Take a gander at the gorgeous brown suede jacket Amelia wore during her 1932 transatlantic crossing by heading over to the Amelia Earhart archive at Purdue University—luckily, it’s all online. And yes, there are images of her revolutionary luggage there too.

You can visit Amelia’s childhood home in Atchison, Kansas. It’s now the Amelia Earhart Museum. It was a highlight for me as I learned about her story. But you can also visit the website.

All this and more can be found in our show notes. They’re right there in your podcast app.


This week’s Overheard episode is produced by Marcy Thompson.

Our producers are Khari Douglas, and Ilana Strauss.

Our senior producers are Brian Gutierrez and Jacob Pinter.

A big, special shout-out and thank-you to my fellow searchers: Melissa Farris, Kristen Clark, and Jinae West.

Our senior editor is Eli Chen.

Our manager of audio is Carla Wills.

Our executive producer of audio is Davar Ardalan, who also edited this episode.

Our fact-checkers are Robin Palmer and Julie Beer.

Our photo editor is Julie Hau.

Ted Woods sound-designed this episode, and Hansdale Hsu composed our theme music.

This podcast is a production of National Geographic Partners.

Whitney Johnson is the director of visuals and immersive experiences.

David Brindley is National Geographic’s interim editor in chief.

And I’m your host, Amy Briggs. Thanks for listening, and see y’all next time.

Want more?

Read “My Flight from Hawaii,” the 1935 article Earhart wrote for National Geographic about her voyage from Hawaii to California.

Peruse the Amelia Earhart archive at Purdue University, which is filled with memorabilia and images from Earhart’s life, including her inimitable sense of fashion and some revolutionary luggage.

Take a look through Earhart’s childhood home in Atchison, Kansas. It’s now the Amelia Earhart Museum.

Also explore:

Check out Earhart’s cherry red Lockheed Vega 5B, used to fly across the Atlantic solo in 1932. It’s on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, in Washington, D.C.

Learn about the Ninety-Nines, an organization founded in 1929 to promote advancement for women in aviation. Earhart was the Ninety-Nines’ first president. Today its membership is composed of thousands of female pilots around the world.

Discover the Amelia Earhart statue and the new Amelia Earhart Hangar Museum being built in Atchison, Kansas.