Other than Dorothy and Toto, there were not a lot of famous Kansas women serving as role models when I was growing up. Even as a child I loved to read biographies, stories about real people doing real things, books that took me far out of my Midwestern corner of the world. My town was small, about 2000, and the library was a modest, one room building shaped like a shoe box. Children’s books were near the floor. When you grew a bit, chapter books were mid-range, and a collection of great works and encyclopedias were on the top shelf. Around the corner were nurse romances, horse novels, and science fiction which all gave way to “serious” adult fiction.
I was about fourth grade when I was tall enough to reach the row of turquoise covered copies of biographies for children that I read over and over. It was there that I met Amelia Earhart, girl flyer from Kansas. I had no idea where Atchison, Kansas was, but if it was in Kansas that was enough for me. I read and reread Amelia’s story. I remember a chapter where her adventures caused her to get a spanking and than made her even more human to me; a girl who was less than perfect but went on to be famous gave me hope I might amount to something someday too!
I recently saw the new movie Amelia where Hilary Swank portrayed the aviatrix. It seems appropriate that I got to see the film in a city once known as Air Capital of the World--Wichita, Kansas. Swank was such an accurate look alike for Earhart that one could easily forget she was an actor and not the flyer herself. The flying scenes were gorgeous and awe inspiring, especially when seen on the huge, concave screen at the Warren Theater. I am not sure how accurate the film was on details, but the story seemed well told. I will certainly be pursuing some of the latest reading material on this 70 year old story.
My young niece has an interest in flying planes. Maybe someday she will fly those same skies as Earhart; maybe she will set records or just earn a good living. Then again, maybe her dreams will change and her life will take another course. But without Amelia Earhart’s breaking way for women, without her adventurous spirit for tackling new things and breaking new ground, even at the cost of her own life, my niece and girls like her might not have had the opportunity to choose. Thanks, Amelia, for giving us all an easier path to the clouds!