Elizabeth Holmes is part of a storied tradition of feminist pioneers who were willing to do what it takes to be like trailblazing men. Holmes of course has patterned herself after Steve Jobs:
Like Jobs, Holmes wears a daily “uniform” of a black suit with a black cotton turtleneck.
But long before Holmes proved that she could be a tech pioneer by donning a lab coat and pulling her hair back, Amelia Earhart proved that she could be an aviation pioneer with a different coat and hairstyle combination.
Earhart immersed herself in learning to fly. She read everything she could find on flying, and spent much of her time at the airfield. She cropped her hair short, in the style of other women aviators. Worried what the other, more experienced pilots might think of her, she even slept in her new leather jacket for three nights to give it a more “worn” look.
Some readers no doubt will think this is unfair to Earhart, as she was only dubbed “Lady Lindy” and “Queen of the Air”, thrown a ticker tape parade, and invited to the White House after her ground breaking 1928 transatlantic flight. It was this great achievement that she detailed in her bestselling 1928 book 20 Hours, 40 Min. The book was published by the same publisher as Lindberg’s We, and is still in print nearly 80 years later. Goodreads begins its description of the book with:
Amelia Earhart captured the hearth and imaginations of people around the world when she became the first woman to cross the Atlantic Ocean by airplane. This book, her personal account of the historic flight, sparkles with her high-spirited charm and adventurous determination.
But this flight that made Earhart an aviation pioneer was 100% image, 0% skill and accomplishment. Earhart was in fact a passenger on the flight that made her famous as the female counterpart to Charles Lindbergh. While Earhart was a licensed pilot, she wasn’t qualified to even assist with such a flight.
Since most of the flight was on “instruments” and Earhart had no training for this type of flying, she did not pilot the aircraft. When interviewed after landing, she said, “Stultz did all the flying—had to. I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes.” She added, “…maybe someday I’ll try it alone.”
Have you come a long way, baby?
Four years later she did in fact try it alone. Fortunately for Earhart aircraft technology advanced greatly during the five years between Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight and her own attempt. Lindbergh accomplished his 1927 solo flight in a single seat aircraft custom built to his specifications around a 223 hp Wright Whirlwind J-5C engine. Earhart was able to make her 1932 solo flight in a 500 hp 6 passenger airliner. To give herself a further advantage, Earhart decided to shave 30% off the distance by starting her flight to Paris from Harbour Grace Newfoundland instead of New York City. Even with these huge advantages, Earhart didn’t make it to Paris and landed instead in a farmer’s field in Northern Ireland. The farmer asked “Have you flown far?”, to which Earhart famously replied “From America”.
Earhart was a creation of powerful media forces and wealthy benefactors. She was chosen for her role as “Lady Lindy” by Amy Phipps Guest, the wealthy daughter of Henry Phipps, Jr. and wife of Frederick Guest. Guest hired the pilot, purchased the airplane, and secured the services of George Putnam, the publisher of Lindbergh’s autobiographical account of his aviation career. As Sylvia Branzei and Melissa Sweet explain in Rebel in a Dress, Earhart was selected for the role because she fit the desired image:
Amy Guest, wanted the “right sort of girl” and that girl had to be American. The project coordinators interviewed Amelia Earhart. She was attractive, bright, and confident. Also, Earhart looked like a female version of Charles Lindbergh, the first person to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Amelia fit the bill.