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I chose to fly the Atlantic because I wanted to. It was, in a measure, a self-justification—a proving to me, and to anyone else interested, that a woman with adequate experience could do it.
—Amelia Earhart, The Fun of It, 1932

Amelia Earhart (1897–1937) loved to fly. How she felt about other things in her life is harder to say. After becoming the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, she was rarely out of public view. In the many images of her after 1928, she appears as the epitome of grace and poise. During the years that America was in the grip of the Great Depression, she provided the nation with a sense of hope and optimism about its future. When she disappeared over the Pacific in 1937—seventy-five years ago—Americans were dumbstruck with grief.

Throughout her life Earhart never lived in one place for very long. After discovering the joy of flying, she came to see the airplane as her one true home. There she could escape, challenge herself, break records, and inspire others who longed to lead independent lives. Although she was a vocal advocate for women’s rights and the future of aviation, she preferred being in the cockpit of a plane to anywhere else. She never dwelled publicly on the challenges associated with being Amelia Earhart, although she seemed to be happiest when flying an airplane.

National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

June 29, 2012 through May 27, 2013