Amelia Earhart was born on July 24th, 1897 in Atchison, Kansas to Samuel "Edwin" Stanton Earhart and Amelia "Amy" Otis Earhart. The father's nickname being a tribute to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton who served under Abraham Lincoln. Amelia, or Millie to her family, grew up in a well to do household with her sister Muriel, AKA Pidge, thanks to the wealth of Amy Earhart's parents. Both girls attended private school and lived quite comfortably. The family lived in Kansas til Amelia was nine, then relocated to Des Moines, Iowa due to a change in jobs for Edwin Stanton Earhart. Amelia saw her first airplane at the Iowa State Fair, though she had little to no interest in it. She found that "it was a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting." It would be more than a decade before Amelia would actually find planes to be more than a thing of rusty wire and wood.
Things were not well in the Earhart family though. Edwin had turned to drinking and Amelia had noticed at an early age that her father was basically the local drunkard. In 1914, the family disbanded and left Edwin after he lost his job at the local railroad. Amy and the girls decided to live with friends in Chicago and Amy used a trust fund to put the girl's through the rest of school, as the money from her parents was now gone. After visiting her sister in 1917 at a college preparatory school in Canada, Amelia decided to train as a nurses aid in Toronto and served as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse at a military hospital until the Armistice in November 1918. After the war, Amelia decided to enroll as a pre-med student at Columbia University, but left when news that her mother and father had gotten back together and moved to California.
Several months after her arrival in California Amelia and her father went to an "aerial meet" at Daugherty Field in Long Beach. She had become very interested in flying. The next day, given a helmet and goggles, she boarded the open-cockpit biplane for a 10 minute flight over Los Angeles. Amelia know from that moment that she wanted to be a pilot. She felt that she belonged in the sky. Amelia then sought out a female pilot instructor and started lessons with pioneer aviatrix Anita "Neta" Snook. Amelia bought her first plane, calling it "The Canary" and used it in her early years. These years yielded many accidents, though this can be attributed to the lack of reliability that came with early planes. Neta Snook still had reservations about Amelia's ability as a pilot though. By October 1922, Amelia began participating in record breaking attempts and set a women's altitude record of 14,000 feet...broken a few weeks later by Ruth Nichols.To make ends meet, Amelia took work as a social worker after moving to Boston. In her spare time, she flew to break records and wrote to encourage other women to become pilots. All the attention on Amelia led to the Boston Globe proclaiming her "one of the best women pilots in the United States." Many seasoned pilots were offended by this and remarked on Amelia's novice flying ability and called her a intelligent and competent pilot, but not a brilliant aviator.
The celebrity endorsements helped her immensely, as they gave her money to fly. She also took on the job of associate editor at Cosmopolitan magazine where she further spread word about opportunities for female pilots. During her time at the magazine, Lindbergh and her became some of the first aviators to promote commercial air travel. Amelia sought to truly make a name for herself in flying by herself and decided to make her first big solo run. In August, 1928 she became the first woman to fly solo across the North American continent and back. It was also during this time that she started flying in races and gained notoriety for her racing feats and selflessness. In 1928 , having been asked six times, Amelia agreed to marry George P. Putnam, the promoter who made Amelia a household name. Their marriage was a strange one for that time, as they both insisted on being breadwinners and Amelia had refused to take Putnam's name.
Itasca, which was stationed at Howland, was to be the ship that communicated with Amelia. This is when the confusion started. With the Itasca's and Amelia's communication time schedules off by a half an hour due to Amelia using Greenwich Civil Time and the Itasca under a Naval time zone designation, and Amelia's unfamiliarity with some of the navigation system parts, things weren't going well.
As Amelia got into the area she kept communicating to the Itasca that she couldn't hear them. With the Itasca unable to communicate with her by voice, they used Morse code, though Amelia reported that she didn't know what direction it was coming from. One of her many calls to the Itasca reported that, "We must be on you, but cannot see you—but gas is running low. Have been unable to reach you by radio. We are flying at 1,000 feet." This message made it painfully clear that things were going terribly wrong and they had to try and help her find her way to the island. Amelia reported that she thought she was there, but the Itasca saw that she was over five nautical miles away. The Itasca then used their oil-fired burners to generate smoke to catch the attention of the pilots, as Amelia was flying with Fred Noonan, her navigator. The many clouds in the area are thought to have made it hard to decipher for Amelia and Noonan, as they never saw the smoke. From that point, there were no more communications from Amelia.
A search and rescue around the island was put forth, but due to search and rescues techniques being rudimentary and fueled by usually false assumptions at that time in history, the search was eventually called off. Putnam put forth his own search party but also found nothing. There are many theories of what happened to Amelia and Noonan, some claiming they just ran out of gas and crashed into the ocean, and some claiming they landed on a nearby deserted island and lived out their days there.
Amelia today is remembered as a trail-blazer for women pilots and a has generally been regarded as a feminist icon. Her story captivates many, as she had such an inspirational life, but died in mystery.
You almost never see a picture of Amelia Earhart smiling with her teeth as she had a large gap between her two front teeth. Many photographers and companies asked her to keep her mouth shut when smiling for pictures.
Update: Researchers now believe that Earhart landed on a nearby island and survived for a few days there. It's just a theory, and apparently they haven't found anything concrete: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jul/24/expedition-fails-to-find-earhart-evidence?newsfeed=true