At this year's VPR's annual Commentators Brunch event for our Broadcasters Club members, VPR commentators gave brief readings on the common theme, "Lost And Found". This prompted some to reflect on surprising discoveries and others to consider missed opportunities and times past.
From the day she first flew across the Atlantic to the day nine brief years later that she disappeared over the Pacific, Amelia Earhart was probably the most famous woman in the world.
This was hard on my grandmother, who was Amelia’s younger sister.
My grandmother was 37 when Amelia disappeared, and for the rest of her very long life, to avoid being overwhelmed by Amelia’s celebrity, my grandmother was deeply reticent about her famous sister.
My mother also much prefers to be known for her own many accomplishments rather than for a famous relative, and to this day is a paragon of discretion about her aunt.
As a result, I grew up knowing very little about Amelia, a situation remedied when the Borders Bookstore in Burlington had a going-out-of-business sale and I got a good deal on a whole shelf-full of Earhart biographies.
I learned that Amelia did not think of herself primarily as an adventurer: she most considered herself an activist for women’s rights. She used the fame from her adventures to draw large crowds as she delivered lecture after lecture across the country through the 1930s on the importance of women’s education and the importance of women having careers of their own.
And then, she vanished.
Seventy six years ago, Amelia, her navigator, Fred Noonan and her airplane disappeared, and in spite of numerous and continuing expeditions to the South Pacific in search of evidence, not a trace has ever been found.
But perhaps the greater loss is this: as America became enthralled with her daring exploits and her sensational disappearance, we lost sight of Amelia’s strong advocacy for women.
Nearly eighty years later, the world-wide prevalence of everything from violence against women to wage discrimination makes it painfully clear how much we still need that advocacy. If we could rescue that part of Amelia Earhart’s legacy from obscurity and use it to inspire and enhance opportunity for women and girls today, that would be a great find. Thank you.