Amelia Earhart: Pilot, Activist, and Legend

Ideas for introducing the concepts of heroism, women's rights, and the scientific method using the famous Amelia Earhart.

By Jill Clark


airplane propeller

“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 failure must be but a challenge to others.” - Amelia Earhart

As one of the most fascinating people of the 20th Century, aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart cemented her place in history through her courage, perseverance, and captivating personality. Her bravery and achievements in aviation brought her fame in the 1920's and 30's. Because she was such an interesting and exciting woman, there are many different objectives that could be explored with Earhart as the focus.

An American Hero

A prime example of courage and determination, Amelia challenged societal norms and dared to try things no one had ever successfully done. Despite naysayers that did not believe in her skill as a pilot, she continued to prove her worthiness and ability to persevere by becoming the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic among many other aviation accomplishments.

Earhart is a great historical figure to present when teaching the concept of courage and heroism. A hero is a person that boldly faces challenges with fearlessness. She possessed many of the qualities that make a hero, such as courage in the face of fear, dedication, endurance, selflessness, and bravery.

What is a Hero?

  • Ask students to define the word hero.
  • Generate a list of qualities that one might have. Can regular people be heroes? What are essential/secondary qualities? A Venn diagram is helpful to visually represent the comparison of what characteristics are essential and which might not be.
  • Introduce Amelia Earhart and her accomplishments.
  • Does she fit the requirements to be labeled as a hero?
  • You could expand this to examine other significant historical figures or regular, everyday people to see if they fit the definition of a hero.

Women's Rights Activist

The early 20th century was a time when few women broke away from the traditional housewife mold. However, Amelia dared to be different. First by being one of only a hand full of women to earn a pilot's license in the 1920's and then going on to achieve many aviation records that few women-or men- were willing to try.  Traveling the country to lecture at colleges, Earhart used her popularity as a platform to promote aviation around the country and was a role model for other women who dared to enter male-dominated occupations.

Although Earhart's accomplishments in her field were profound, she was also one of many women who were role models in the fight for equality. There are many notable women that helped pave the way for generations to come. 

Women in History

  • Create a "Gallery of Extraordinary Women" in the classroom. The Gallery will showcase women in history and their contributions to our country and women's rights.
  • Build an "Encyclopedia of Notable Women" using an online Webquest
  • Amelia Earhart gained notable fame as a pioneer for women in aviation, breaking many speed, altitude, and distance records. Create a timeline of her accomplishments to visually illustrate her contributions, both directly and indirectly, to the women's rights movements.

Use the Scientific Method 

When Earhart and her co-pilot Frederick Noonan attempted to fly around the world in July of 1937, their mysterious dissapearance left many wondering: what caused these experienced and knowledgeable aviators to essentially vanish without a trace? The facts surrounding her last flight are vague at best, but have yielded some interesting theories.

Using the Scientific Method of research to propose a viable explanation for Earhart's disappearance is an interesting way to both discover information about this historical figure and to practice making a hypothesis based on research. Have students work in groups to discuss the following:

  • Ask a question: What caused the disappearance of Earhart, Noonan, and their aircraft in 1937?
  • Do background research: Have students research Amelia's qualifications as a pilot and experience with a flight of this nature. Also, what were weather conditions like in this area during the flight? Use primary source newspaper articles, search logs, weather information, interviews of people that were part of the search etc.
  • Construct a hypothesis: What are possible explanations?
  • Test your hypothesis: Is the hypothesis viable? What evidence supports this hypothesis? Is there evidence that counters your idea? Explore existing theories for validity.
  • Analyze your data and draw a conclusion: Using the evidence gathered, have groups make a final conclusion as to what happened to Earhart.
  • Communicate your results: Students can present their findings in many ways depending on time and resources: PowerPoint presentation, poster, tri-fold display board, essay, oral presentation or video segment.

While over 70 years have passed since her mysterious disappearance, Amelia Earhart still remains one of the most well-known women in history. However you choose to explore the life and times of this figure, learners are sure to be astounded by her courageousness and accomplishments during a time when women enjoyed very little equality with their male counterparts. Earhart is indeed worthy of the title: American hero.

Additional Resources:

The Life of Amelia Earhart and Her Mysterious Disappearance

Read and discuss actual radio transmissions from Amelia Earhart's final flight. Pupils will also learn facts about her life and accomplishments in aviation.

Amelia's Bravery and Contribution to Women's Rights

A dynamic lesson where pupils explore the idea of bravery and how Earhart's actions contributed to the advancement of women.