The mysterious 1937 disappearance of Amelia Earhart has puzzled the public for almost 80 years, with numerous theories circulating about the vanished celebrity pilot. Last week, The Historical Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery made public results that may solve the mystery, which reminded us about the unexpected discovery of Earhart photos taken during her visit to Denton’s Texas Woman’s University back in the day.
Although the stuff of legend, Amelia Earhart may be mostly unknown to today’s youth. The daredevil aviator was born into privilege but became only the 16th woman to be issued a pilots license in 1923, only seven months after she set a world record for flying her biplane to 14,000 feet. Often compared to the legendary Charles Lindburg of The Spirit of St. Louis transcontinental fame, Earhart became a celebrity as much for her fierce championing for women aviators as her own aeronautical derring-do. The svelte “Queen of the Air” enjoyed sponsorships on the lecture circuit from women’s clothing brands and Lucky Strike cigarettes, also promoting the emerging commercial airline industry by representing TransContinental Air. In 1932, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly non-stop across the U.S. with a trip from Los Angeles, CA to Newark, NJ that took about 19 hours.
Amelia Earhart visited the then-named Texas State College for Women (now TWU) in January of 1936, regaling students and the public with stories of her flying adventures but also expressing her progressive vision for women. “I believe every woman should do things contrary to what is considered in her sphere,” Earhart told her Denton audience, “and the sooner she does this the more advanced she will be.” The blog for the Denton Library recounts the tale of photos taken during Earhart’s visit being rediscovered during recent research, which is pretty darned neat.
Earhart’s driving ambition to become the first female aviator to circumnavigate the globe may have contributed to her plane’s disappearance on July 2, 1937. According to the TIGAR theory, Earhart and her co-pilot Fred Noonan did not crash in the Pacific Ocean, but managed to land their fuel-spent Electra on a tiny atoll and spent the rest of their days as castaways. It’s a pretty dark twist to a decades-old mystery, and probably the closest we will ever get to closure.
You can explore more in TWU Libraries’ Amelia Earhart Collection archive, as well as the amazing history in the WASP Archives that tells the stories of female aviators who followed in Earhart’s footsteps.
Shaun Treat is a former professor at the University of North Texas and founder of the Denton Haunts historical ghost tour. Doc has written about numerous local places and personalities at his Denton Haunts blog, and is forever indebted to the great work of our local keepers of history like Mike Cochran and Laura Douglas at the Emily Fowler Library for their tireless work in helping preserve Denton’s intriguing past. Be sure to check out our local museums curated by the fine folks at the Denton County Office of History & Culture, and follow @Dentonaut on Twitter for local happenings.