How Journaling Helped Shape Amelia Earhart’s Legacy

Evidence of journaling has been traced back multiple millennia and has played a role in the accurate depiction of many historic events. Research shows that journaling reduces stress and anxiety proving to be a helpful tool in managing mental health.

The pioneering aviator, Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic adopted the art of journaling. Earhart was cemetnted in the annals of American history after she tragically vanished in the Pacific during her attempt to circumnavigate the globe in 1937. Born in Kansas in 1897, Earhart went on to see more of the world than most of her contemporaries could ever dream. She crisscrossed continents and seas in prop planes at a time when traveling to foreign countries usually meant immigrating to them.

Earhart’s legacy as a pilot and advocate for women’s rights earned her a spot on the calendar with National Amelia Earhart Day, July 24 every year. However, this legacy owes at least a partial debt to Earhart's journaling, her lifelong commitment to recording adventures that fueled her rise and cemented her achievements.

Aviator as Author

Earhart published two books in her lifetime, 20 Hrs. 40 Min.: Our Flight in the Friendship and The Fun of It. Both were part of a public relations campaign orchestrated by Earhart and her husband, the publisher George P. Putnam, to implant the young pilot in the American imagination. Her final book, Last Flight, which was supposed to have been titled World Flight, was pieced together by Putnam from her writings shortly after her death.

Earhart took journaling seriously – so much so that she would send her husband diary entries from refueling depots around the world, occasionally dictating them over the phone. The jaunty prose style of the books takes on poignance, given her fate. Here she is in Last Flight describing the recovery from a terrifying stall out over the North Atlantic: “As we righted and held level again, through the blackness below I could see the white-caps too close for comfort. All that was five full years ago, a long time to recall little things.”

Her last communicated entry, sent from what is now Papua New Guinea, occurred just before the disappearance of her Lockheed Electra 10E on the way to Howland Island in the South Pacific. “She sent back the log books of the journey,” her husband explains in the introduction to Last Flight, “their pages filled with her own penciling, scribbled in the cockpit as she flew over four continents.”

He adds: “I think, somehow, she knew. ‘When I go,’ she often said, ‘I’d like best to go in my plane. Quickly.’”

Journals to Books

While Earhart’s three books use the form of memoirs to recount their author’s childhood and entry into aviation, they are filled with recollected emotions and images that have roots in her journaling practice. In Last Flight, she reproduces verbatim extracts from her log book, delivered as staccato notation: “It is now 4:10 PST. We have been flying over a stretch of open sea, so the sky looks light. Now we reach some clouds with holes in them. Now and then, a star seems to rise from one of these holes. Curious illusion.”

Then, when describing the sky in her books (the sky features heavily in these books), Earhart reformulates her observations in a suitable rhythm for the narrative task at hand. She writes in Last Flight:

“It was a night of stars. Stars hung outside my cockpit window near enough to touch. I have never seen so many or such large ones. I shall never forget the contrast of the white clouds and the moonlight and starlight against the black of the sea. It is interesting that I have flown over thousands of miles of water but only seen hundreds of miles.”

The journal-to-book workflow can be detected over and over across her output. The books are packed with carefully observed details about the length of runways, the capacities of various fuel drums, and snatches of conversations with her co-pilots. Without these details, the books might succumb to weightlessness; luckily, the journals provide the needed ballast.

As the New York Times wrote of the journals in a 1937 review of Last Flight, “Perhaps that is why it is so fresh and bright and sounds like her.”

Becoming a Symbol

It’s interesting to note that the first woman to circumnavigate the world alone by airplane – Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock – is less famous than Amelia Earhart. The same holds true for the first man, Wiley Hardeman Post. Part of the reason lies in the power of public relations, a skill Earhart and Putnam both mastered; the rest is just fate.

With the birth of aviation – a mesmerizing spectacle at the time – incentives arose for a steady churn of inventors, entrepreneurs, and pilots to keep the public’s interest. The time was right for a dashing figure like Earhart to ascend to fame.

In 1927, Earhart was contacted with a proposition by a team that included her future husband George Putnam. Charles Lindbergh had recently become the first man to fly solo across the Atlantic, and the group was looking to back the first woman. Earhart, who was already an experienced pilot and living in the Boston area, wrote a newspaper column about flying. This exposure led to the invitation that set her career in motion.

Putnam and his friends invited Earhart to join a transatlantic flight crewed by pilots Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon, which she gladly accepted as log bookkeepers. Upon their return from England, the trio encountered a ticker tape parade in New York and met President Calvin Coolidge.

By then, Earhart’s fame was a sealed deal. A steady progression of increasingly ambitious flights, bolstered by speaking engagements and memoirs derived from her cockpit journals, would ensure her continued success for life.

However, the recipe for immortality would turn out to be tragedy. “‘Some day,’ she would say,” writes her husband in Last Flight, ‘’I’ll get bumped off. There’s so much to do, so much fun here, I don’t want to go, but…’”

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks