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EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN: Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart stands June 14, 1928 in front of her bi-plane called Friendship in Newfoundland. (Agency reference - 1161352)
Courtesy of Getty Images (1928)
Amelia Earhart stands June 14, 1928 in front of her bi-plane called Friendship in Newfoundland. (Agency reference - 1161352)

Friday, June 27, 2014 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

They seemed to have it all – glamour, power, wealth and adoration. Grace Kelly, Coco Chanel, Audrey Hepburn, Indira Gandhi, Madame Chiang Kai-shek... they were worshiped, loved and sometimes even feared by millions the world over. These were the pioneers who showed that a woman could be the equal of any man. But behind the public success, there was so often private heartache and personal tragedy.

Featuring archive, interviews and dramatic re-enactment, this series reveals the price these extraordinary women paid for their achievements. Yet in the end, they overcame all adversities to emerge as triumphant, inspirational icons of the 20th century. Amelia Earhart was an aviation pioneer and female icon.

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Born to a privileged family in Kansas in the United States, Amelia grew up a tomboy. It was no surprise that when her father, Edwin took her to an air show, Amelia was hooked. She took numerous part time jobs, and borrowed money from her mother’s inheritance, in order to pay for flying lessons and buy her first plane. But Charles Lindberg’s record-breaking flight across the Atlantic awakened in Amelia, a daring need for adventure on a massive scale.

She caught the attention of high profile publisher of adventure books, George Palmer Putnam who gave Amelia the chance to equal Lindbergh’s Atlantic feat. The successful crossing in 1928 brought Amelia instant fame. But what Putnam’s publicity downplayed, was the fact that Amelia was only a passenger!

Determined to make her name on merit, Amelia set a host of other flying records across the U.S., from city to city and coast to coast. She also helped establish the first women’s pilot association, The Ninety-Nines. But harboring doubts about the validity of her position as America’s greatest female flyer, in 1932 Amelia made the trip across the Atlantic again - this time, alone.

With Putnam by her side as her husband as well as her business partner, Amelia’s celebrity was sky-high. She marketed her own fashion line and helped promote commercial air travel in America. Amelia’s real passion however, was flying.

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After another American pilot, Wiley Post, successfully completed two round-the-world flights, Amelia recognized a perfect opportunity to end her stunt flying career at the top. She would attempt her own record breaking trip; traveling the widest point of the earth, around the equator. It was a huge undertaking. The 29,000 mile journey had never been attempted by man or woman.

In June 1937, Amelia set off from Oakland California, arriving in Papua New Guinea within a month, after traveling 22,000 miles. Only a refueling stop, on the tiny Howland Island, stood between Amelia and navigator Fred Noonan, before Hawaii, and the final Pacific hop home to California. But a catalogue of errors would mean that neither Amelia, Noonan or her plane were ever seen again.

Frantic searches in the weeks following her disappearance failed to shed any light on Amelia’s fate. Conspiracy theories followed and frequent searches continue to this day as people try to crack the unsolved mystery, but it is the legacy of Amelia Earhart’s extraordinary life that continues to inspire generations of women.

Amelia Earhart's Official Fan Page is on Facebook.

Distributed by BBC Worldwide

Achievements

Amelia Earhart's strong will and conviction enabled her to overcome the challenging technical problems, gender bias and financial obstacles. View a timeline of her achievements.

Quotes

An intelligent and articulate person, Amelia was asked for her opinion on everything from aviation to feminism. These quotes, both by and about her, provide intimate insights into the mind and heart of this amazing woman.

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