July 03, 2018
This week, women pilots from around the globe are gathering in Philadelphia for the Ninety-Nines international conference.
Since its founding in 1929, the organization has advocated on behalf of women in aviation, a field long dominated by men. Some of the world’s most famous pilots have been members, including its first president, Amelia Earhart. An aviation trailblazer and media savvy pop icon, Earhart was a perfect leadership fit for the nascent Ninety-Nines as it sought to break gender barriers and encourage young women to become pilots.
By the time she became the Ninety-Nines’ president in 1931, Earhart was already a household name. In 1922, she broke the world altitude record for women by ascending to 14,000 feet. In another major first, she became the first woman to fly over the Atlantic Ocean, albeit as a passenger. Flying aboard an aircraft named Friendship, Earhart joined pilots Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon on their 1928 trans-Atlantic journey.
Earhart found the event and her participation in it unremarkable. Ruminating on the voyage, she claimed that she “was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes.” She resolved to pilot such a journey herself. On May 20, 1932 — it was the fifth anniversary of Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo flight to Europe — she did just that, completing a 15-hour trip from Newfoundland to Northern Ireland to become the first woman to pilot an aircraft over the Atlantic and only the second person to make such a flight alone and nonstop.
Her international fame skyrocketed. She received awards from President Herbert Hoover and the French government. The city of Philadelphia, too, honored the groundbreaking pilot, rolling out the red carpet for a massive celebration in the fall of 1932.
Philadelphia Mayor Joseph Hampton Moore designated Earhart “outstanding woman of the year” and presented her with the Gimbel medal, emblazoned with Philadelphia’s coat of arms and a tribute to its recipient. The city threw a massive parade, attracting Philadelphians interested in catching a glimpse of the internationally renowned pilot.
Earhart went on to accomplish much more: she flew nonstop across the United States, becoming the first woman to do so. She also became the first person to cross the stretch of the Pacific Ocean from California to Honolulu.
Though she relinquished her role as president of the Ninety-Nines in 1933, she remained active in the organization until her tragic disappearance in July 1937.
The photos below of Earhart's visit to the city, and Camden, from the Philadelphia Record newspaper, were provided by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The final photo shows members of the Ninety-Nines visiting the city in 1941.
Patrick Glennon is a communications officer at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.