Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum, Atchison

4.6
#1 of 12 in Things to do in Atchison
Birthplace Museum for Amelia Earhart - Atchison, KS that was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971

Childhood

Amelia Mary Earhart, daughter of Samuel "Edwin" Stanton Earhart (March 28, 1867) and Amelia "Amy" Otis Earhart (1869–1962),[7] was born in Atchison, Kansas, in the home of her maternal grandfather, Alfred Gideon Otis (1827–1912), a former federal judge, president of the Atchison Savings Bank and a leading citizen in Atchison. This was the second child in the marriage as an infant was stillborn in August 1896.[8] Alfred Otis had not initially favored the marriage and was not satisfied with Edwin's progress as a lawyer.[9]

Earhart was named, according to family custom, after her two grandmothers (Amelia Josephine Harres and Mary Wells Patton).[8] From an early age Earhart, nicknamed "Meeley" (sometimes "Millie") was the ringleader while younger sister (two years her junior), Grace Muriel Earhart (1899–1998), nicknamed "Pidge," acted the dutiful follower.[10] Both girls continued to answer to their childhood nicknames well into adulthood.[8] Their upbringing was unconventional since Amy Earhart did not believe in molding her children into "nice little girls."[11] Meanwhile their maternal grandmother disapproved of the "bloomers" worn by Amy's children and although Earhart liked the freedom they provided, she was aware other girls in the neighborhood did not wear them.

Early influence

A spirit of adventure seemed to abide in the Earhart children with the pair setting off daily to explore their neighborhood.[12] As a child, Earhart spent long hours playing with Pidge, climbing trees, hunting rats with a rifle and "belly-slamming" her sled downhill. Although this love of the outdoors and "rough-and-tumble" play was common to many youngsters, some biographers have characterized the young Earhart as a tomboy.[13] The girls kept "worms, moths, katydids and a tree toad"[14] in a growing collection gathered in their outings. In 1904, with the help of her uncle, she cobbled together a home-made ramp fashioned after a roller coaster she had seen on a trip to St. Louis and secured the ramp to the roof of the family toolshed. Earhart's well-documented first flight ended dramatically. She emerged from the broken wooden box that had served as a sled with a bruised lip, torn dress and a "sensation of exhilaration." She exclaimed, "Oh, Pidge, it's just like flying!"[9]

Although there had been some missteps in his career up to that point, in 1907 Edwin Earhart's job as a claims officer for the Rock Island Railroad led to a transfer to Des Moines, Iowa. The next year, at the age of 10,[15] Earhart saw her first aircraft at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. Her father tried to interest her and her sister in taking a flight. One look at the rickety old "flivver" was enough for Earhart, who promptly asked if they could go back to the merry-go-round.[16] She later described the biplane as “a thing of rusty wire and wood and not at all interesting.”[17]

Education

The two sisters, Amelia and Muriel (she went by her middle name from her teens on), remained with their grandparents in Atchison, while their parents moved into new, smaller quarters in Des Moines. During this period, Earhart received a form of home-schooling together with her sister, from her mother and a governess. She later recounted that she was "exceedingly fond of reading"[18] and spent countless hours in the large family library. In 1909, when the family was finally reunited in Des Moines, the Earhart children were enrolled in public school for the first time with Amelia Earhart entering the seventh grade at the age of 12 years.

Family fortunes

While the family's finances seemingly improved with the acquisition of a new house and even the hiring of two servants, it soon became apparent Edwin was an alcoholic. Five years later (in 1914), he was forced to retire and although he attempted to rehabilitate himself through treatment, he was never reinstated at the Rock Island Railroad. At about this time, Earhart's grandmother Amelia Otis died suddenly, leaving a substantial estate that placed her daughter's share in trust, fearing that Edwin's drinking would drain the funds. The Otis house and all of its contents, was auctioned; Earhart was heart-broken and later described it as the end of her childhood.[19]

In 1915, after a long search, Earhart's father found work as a clerk at the Great Northern Railway in St. Paul, Minnesota, where Earhart entered Central High School as a junior. Edwin applied for a transfer to Springfield, Missouri, in 1915 but the current claims officer reconsidered his retirement and demanded his job back, leaving the elder Earhart with nowhere to go. Facing another calamitous move, Amy Earhart took her children to Chicago where they lived with friends. Earhart made an unusual condition in the choice of her next schooling; she canvassed nearby high schools in Chicago to find the best science program. She rejected the high school nearest her home when she complained that the chemistry lab was "just like a kitchen sink."[20] She eventually was enrolled in Hyde Park High School but spent a miserable semester where a yearbook caption captured the essence of her unhappiness, "A.E. – the girl in brown who walks alone."[21]

Earhart graduated from Hyde Park High School in 1916.[22] Throughout her troubled childhood, she had continued to aspire to a future career; she kept a scrapbook of newspaper clippings about successful women in predominantly male-oriented fields, including film direction and production, law, advertising, management and mechanical engineering.[15] She began junior college at Ogontz School in Rydal, Pennsylvania but did not complete her program.[23]

During Christmas vacation in 1917, Earhart visited her sister in Toronto. World War I had been raging and Earhart saw the returning wounded soldiers. After receiving training as a nurse's aide from the Red Cross, she began work with the Volunteer Aid Detachment at Spadina Military Hospital. Her duties included preparing food in the kitchen for patients with special diets and handing out prescribed medication in the hospital's dispensary.[24] Choose to start, finish, or center your holiday on a trip to Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum by using our Atchison trip maker.
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Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum Reviews
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  • Great stop to learn some history, conspiracy theories, and general "wow, this was really worth the visit."  more »
  • We found this museum on the spur of the moment while visiting Kansas City and decided to take a short road trip. Atchison is about an hour north of Kansas City and a pretty drive (part of the way...  more »
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