Amelia Earhart emerged from her plane in Oakland after flying solo from Hawaii on Jan. 12, 1935. (Corbis via Getty Images)

The courage of Amelia Earhart: “I want to do it because I want to do it.”

Coastal Californians scanned the skies for hours in anticipation of her arrival.

At Oakland Airport, a nervous tension permeated a crowd of roughly 10,000 onlookers. “Then,” the S.F. Chronicle reported on the events of Jan. 12, 1935, “out of the veil of mist, without warning, came the plane.” Amelia Earhart’s red monoplane streaked into view and touched down, having completed the first solo flight between Hawaii and California.

The crowd went wild, tossing hats into the air. As Earhart poked her unruly blonde hair from the cockpit, someone put a bouquet of roses into her hands. After 18 hours and 17 minutes of airborne solitude, Earhart was mobbed by adorers.

“It was nothing,” she said of a feat that had killed 10 fliers on previous attempts. “Just sitting there and getting dirty. I may go east tomorrow.”

Earhart’s plane was swarmed by admirers in Oakland.
National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution

Earhart often said the lure of flying is the lure of beauty. In her account of the flight, she wrote of the wonder of soaring through the inky skies over the Pacific. The stars, she wrote, “seemed to rise from the sea and hang outside my cockpit window, near enough to touch, until hours later they slipped away into the dawn.”

Two years later, Earhart again planned to make Oakland the stage for history. Along with a navigator, Fred Noonan, she took off from the city’s airport on an attempt to become the first woman to circumnavigate the globe.

But there would be no repeat of the jubilant reception of 1935. Earhart and Noonan completed two-thirds of the journey, but while crossing the Pacific this time the stars hid behind a veil of clouds. Celestial navigation became impossible.

On July 2, 1937, the plane lost contact. The duo was never found. Earhart, 39, by then probably the most famous woman in the world, passed into legend, the embodiment of a modern woman’s adventurous spirit.

She accepted the risks of her passion, Earhart once wrote to her husband. “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.”

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