Amelia Earhart - Young Aviator: A Conversation with Beatrice Gormley

Recently, we reached out to Beatrice Gormley; author of "Amelia Earhart - Young Aviator" and asked her if she would be willing to give our site it's first exclusive interview. Beatrice gave her thoughts on Amelia's impact and legacy, the obstacles that she faced in becoming a legend in aviation, why she continues to appeal to children all over the world and much more.

Can you tell us a little about your background and your education?

I grew up in Southern California and graduated from Pomona College, so I’m familiar with the area in which Amelia Earhart began to fly. My B.A. was in English, and I planned from an early age to become a writer.

How did Amelia Earhart come into your life?

After I had written several biographies for young people, my editor at Simon & Schuster asked if I wanted to write one about Amelia Earhart. I jumped at the chance.

Can you talk a little bit about why the case of Ms. Earhart continues to captivate the entire world and how you feel Ms. Earhart has continued to impact the general public 80 years after her disappearance?

Photo Courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Amelia Earhart was already world-famous when she disappeared over the South Pacific in 1937. The still unresolved question of exactly what happened adds to the enduring appeal of her story, of a brave and glamorous woman who died too soon.

When Ms. Earhart entered into the aviation world, men mostly dominated it. What kind of pressures do you think she received when she entered into this world and what kind of struggles do you imagine she must have encountered?

I think she must have been condescended to and treated as an oddity—a “girl” who wanted to fly. Many people, including her own family, would have tried to prevent her from such a dangerous enterprise. But I don’t think Amelia let this bother her much. She was determined to learn to fly and keep on flying.

Can you talk a little bit about what women in general thought of Amelia Earhart and what doing these things did for the feminist morale at that time period?

For women, Amelia Earhart modeled how to ignore society’s disapproval in such a cheerful, charming way that she was not only successful, but widely admired. I think women took encouragement, from her example, that they could dare to follow their own dreams without becoming social outcasts.

What was it about Ms. Earhart that made her the right fit to make the kind of impact on aviation that she did at the time?

Amelia Earhart was attractive and graceful; she had a modest, straightforward manner. There were other women, at that time, who were accomplished aviators, but none quite as appealing to the public as she was. She even looked something like Charles Lindbergh, the aviation hero.

The first time she flew across the Atlantic she flew as a passenger. However, when that flight landed, she was the center of attention. Do you think that first flight lit a fire under her that became the driving force for her wanting to make her next flight; this time, alone?

I think the enormous publicity Amelia Earhart gained from her flight across the Atlantic on the Friendship, resulting in a well-paid job at a magazine, as well as many invitations to speak, gave her the financial freedom to buy and maintain her own airplane and plan her transcontinental flight. Also, she was disturbed that she’d received so much attention and praise for merely riding along in the Friendship, and she was eager to show that she could fly long distances solo.

Amelia Earhart was often told that “women can’t do the things men can do.” Do you think that as she made these flights and broke the records, she had a sense of internal vindication?

She must have gained some satisfaction from proving that she could do what most people at that time thought she couldn’t. However, I believe her greatest satisfaction was living the kind of life she wanted: a life of adventure, challenges, danger.

Can you talk a little about the dual role Amelia Earhart had to play, lady-like in public, soft-spoken with children, yet forceful and intelligent, acting and talking like one of the guys, in the world of aviation?

Even as a young girl, Amelia Earhart knew that she wanted to live in a way that tested her courage and physical skill and endurance. She learned early that the best approach was not to confront and antagonize others, but to calmly proceed to do what she wanted, cheerfully and confidently. If she had to act one way with most people but show another side of herself on the airfield, that’s what she would do. Her personal charm took her a long way.

What are the reasons that Ms. Earhart had such an immense impact on children, and still does?

Children are naturally idealistic, and they are drawn to role models who demonstrate possibilities for their own lives. Amelia Earhart showed the world that a woman could set a high goal for herself and follow through with extraordinary bravery and perseverance—and become a glamorous icon in the process. She is thus a thrilling role model for children, especially girls.

If Ms. Earhart were alive today, what would she think of all the attempts to find her remains and to explain, once and for all, her disappearance?

I think Amelia Earhart would be incredulous that anyone would not come to the obvious conclusion about her disappearance: Her plane ran out of fuel and went down in rough seas. The model she was flying, a Lockheed Electra, had a reputation for submerging quickly, allowing no time to launch a life raft. Also, she might have been knocked unconscious by the impact. I also think Amelia would be appalled that so much money was being spent searching for the wreck of the Electra, when it could have been spent on causes she believed in, especially encouraging young women to follow their dreams.

Ultimately, what is Ms. Earhart’s impact and legacy to you?

Working on my biography, Amelia Earhart, Young Aviator, I felt that I was spending time with Amelia Earhart, getting to know her. This experience was personally inspiring. I’ll never pilot an airplane, but I hope I can meet the challenges of my own life with such courage and grace.

A special thank you to Beatrice for the interview and for more on her and her work please visit her website here.

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