A “social worker who flies for sport,” the historic aviator had a scrapbook of heroines whose accomplishments stand the test of time.

In the fall of 1916 at the age of 19, Amelia Earhart started a scrapbook titled Activities of Women. At the time, she was beginning her junior college education at the stylish Ogontz School outside Philadelphia. Between scaling the roofs of campus buildings, attending classes in her favorite subjects (science and math), writing letters home, and drinking hot chocolate from trophy cups late at night with friends, she also chronicled the achievements of women she admired. Within the pages of this personal album were clippings from newspapers that mentioned notable achievements of women, many pulled directly from small novelty news sections titled “Odd Bits About Women.” 

Earhart came of age in a time when young women did not have easy access to many role models of women who led independent lives or had successful careers. These stories were hard to find and rare! 

From a very young age, Earhart was driven by a desire to seek out stories of independent women. She memorized stories and poems that featured female heroines, such as Atalanta in Calydon by Algernon Charles Swinburne, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Earhart knew instinctively that internalizing the stories of brave and successful women would empower her to continue their legacy. If she could see it, she could be it. 

Each woman in Earhart’s scrapbook impacted the world in some way, be it big or small. Some clippings were a mere few lines mentioning a woman who ran her own business and turned a profit. Other columns featured female politicians who had beat out longstanding male competitors. No matter the article, Earhart took care and attention to each addition she made in her book.

Below are a few notable entries:

Lady Dorothy Mills

Explorer and author Lady Dorothy Mills traveled the globe while wearing a wedding ring made from a bullet that had wounded her husband in WWI. Mills documented her transformative experiences in the travelogues The Road to Timbuktu and The Country of the Orinoco.

Dr. Lillian Gilbreth

Dr. Lillian Gilbreth, an industrial and organizational psychologist, was one of the first women to earn a Ph.D. in engineering. Dr. Gilbreth was paramount to the advancement of time-and-motion studies in the United States.

Dr. Bessica Raiche

Businesswoman and physician Dr. Bessica Raiche was one of the first female doctors to specialize in gynecology. In 1910, the Aeronautical Society of America presented Dr. Raiche with a gold medal encrusted with diamonds in recognition of her being the first female aviator. She flew in a biplane she built with her husband out of bamboo, canvas, and silk, with no formal aviation training. 

Amanda A. Newton

Botanical illustrator Amanda A. Newton worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Newton was a prolific artist who created thousands of wax models and paintings of produce. Before photography was widely adopted, these realistic references were essential when comparing samples submitted by farmers. 

Mary C.C. Bradford

Mary C. C. Bradford was Colorado’s state superintendent of public instruction and first female delegate to the Democratic National Convention. She was an activist in the women’s suffrage movement and was also elected president of the National Education Association.

Though this practice of reading, cutting, and pasting, Earhart built a map for the life she wanted to lead. In 1932, after making national headlines for being the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Earhart was awarded a medal by the American Women’s Association for making the most significant contribution to society that year. The Women’s Press Club hosted the awards dinner at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City. 

As her career in social work and aviation brought her to the world stage, she had the opportunity to meet some of the very women from the pages of her scrapbook. Among them, Dr. Gilbreth—who invented the foot-pedal trash can, in addition to many other items and societal contributions—whose entry in Activities of Women featured one of few newsprint photographs. Earhart pasted a large photograph of Dr. Gilbreth sitting proudly in the passenger seat of her massive touring car, accompanied by her husband and 11 children. 

This awards ceremony marked a significant moment in Earhart’s life. As Dr. Gilbreth publicly acknowledged Earhart’s achievements, Earhart made the transition from mentee to mentor; she would now grace the pages of other young women’s scrapbooks.   

Earhart never defined herself as an aviatrix, in fact, she considered herself a humanitarian first and a pilot second, self-describing as “a social worker who flies for sport.” 

Seeing other women do what’s considered impossible is important for young women, as evidenced by Earhart’s scrapbook and the work of countless other pioneers. The biggest restrictions are the socially accepted psychological barriers around what’s possible. True innovators and agents of change push past those limiting mental models within themselves, and then knock down those same barriers within the cultural consciousness. These iconic women symbolize positive change by redefining what’s possible. In doing so, they fulfill the real role of any leader: to do what hasn’t been done before. At every stage of life, women grow from seeing other women achieve.

Earhart’s scrapbook shows the lasting power of seeking out examples of success that speak to you. May we all be brave enough to become, raise, and befriend the heroines of the next generation

Learn more about the powerful women in Amelia Earhart’s scrapbook here:

  1. Mary Foulke Morrison, a women’s rights pioneer
  2. “First Lady of Law” Mabel Walker Willebrandt
  3. Neely Dickson, a community theater creator and advocate
  4. Mabel Loomis Todd, a writer and publisher who edited posthumous Emily Dickinson poetry

Grace Boyle is a writer for Rebel Girls, where she focuses on interviewing contemporary feminist artists and researching historical feminist leaders. Previously, she led the writing and content team at MentorBox as executive writer and editor, where she created educational content for world-class experts and thought leaders including New York Times bestsellers and Pulitzer Prize winners. Grace studied writing at the Ezra Pound Center for Literature and learned to interview at the Nationally Acclaimed Public Radio show New Dimensions Radio. She regularly consults with podcasts and businesses on brand narrative and communication strategy. Grace lives by the ocean in San Francisco and begins each day with a cup of tea and a text to her mom. You can find Grace on LinkedIn.