Friday, March 14, 2014

Fearless Females (March 14, 2014): Meet "Meeley" -- A Fearless Woman You Already Know (Sort Of)

For the 5th year, Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist blog is marking National Women's History Month with daily blogging prompts for March to honor "fearless females." The prompt for today is about women who were newsmakers.  The prompt questions ask, "Did you have a female ancestor who made the news? Why? Was she famous or notorious? Did she appear in the social column?"

Taking the liberty of interpreting "ancestor" less than strictly so as to encompass women who are "relatives" rather than just actual ancestors, I am including the little girl shown above. She grew into quite a fearless and famous woman who died entirely too young pursuing her dreams and trying to extend her fame. She made the news for many years during her short life and was world famous.  She appeared in the social column quite often.  Books have been written about her and movies have been made about her and with her as a mentioned character or personality. You all actually know who she is, but you probably do not recognize her as a young girl in the photos above.  

I discovered that the girl and the woman honored here today as a truly news-making, fearless woman was a distant relative (6th cousin 2X removed) in a truly serendipitous manner. As a Mayflower descendant from two of Richard Warren's daughters (Elizabeth and Anna), I was sitting reading the newly arrived September 2011 Mayflower Quarterly when I came upon an article by the then Governor General of the General Society of Mayflower Descendants, Judith H. Swan.  The article was part of a series about Women of the Mayflower -- and this particular piece highlighted a descendant of Richard and Elizabeth Warren through one of their seven children, Anna Warren Little (my 9th great grandmother).  This caught my immediate attention and I quickly realized that this famous woman and I shared Richard Warren, his daughter Anna, her son Ephraim Little and his daughter Mercy Little as common ancestors! My 6th great grandfather, Job Otis, Jr. and her ancestor, Ephraim Otis, were brothers.  

Here is the descent of my 6th cousin 2 x removed from the first of our common ancestors, Mayflower passenger Richard Warren and his wife Elizabeth Walker Warren. . . 

Richard and Elizabeth Warren
Anna Warren and Thomas Little
Ephraim Little and Mary Sturtevant
Mercy Little and Job Otis  [To this point our line of descent is exactly the same.]
Ephraim Otis and his wife [Ephraim is the brother of my 6th great grandfather Job Otis, Jr.]
Ephraim Otis, Jr. and his wife
Ephraim Otis, III and his wife
Isaac Otis and his wife
Alfred Gideon Otis and Amelia Harres
Amelia Otis and her husband
The fearless woman honored here today was named for her two grandmothers; her maternal grandmother, Amelia Harres, and her paternal grandmother, Mary Patton. And since she shared her mother's first name, when she was born she was the third "Amelia" in as many generations in her maternal line.

Amelia Mary, known as "Meeley," was born in Atchison, Kansas on July 24, 1897.  She had one sibling, Grace Muriel, known as "Pidge," who was almost two and a half years younger.  When Meeley and Pidge were seven and five respectively, they were left for three years in the care of their grandparents while their parents moved to Des Moines, Iowa where their father had taken a job with the Rock Island Line Railroad after his law practice failed. In Iowa, Meeley and Pidge were taken to the famous Iowa State Fair and there for the first time in 1908 they saw an airplane in flight. Meeley's and Pidge's parents, Amelia "Amy" and Edwin Stanton Earhart could not have known then what the newly invented airplane would mean in the life of their daughter Meeley whose given name would become internationally famous within the next twenty years. Amelia Mary Earhart was an accomplished and fearless woman indeed! 

If you ask almost anyone what they know about Amelia Earhart, it almost certainly will be that she disappeared in the Pacific Ocean during an attempt to circumnavigate the globe in an airplane. But of course she was much more than the female pilot who died trying to fly around the world.  She held many aviation records and firsts.  She was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic (1928) and was thereafter called "Lady Lindy." She also became the first woman to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. She was the first person to cross both the Atlantic and the Pacific in an airplane and was the first woman to fly solo back and forth across the North American continent.

Amelia had other indications of strength and determination. Her family moved around as her father lost jobs and became more debilitated by alcoholism.  Her mother took Meeley and Pidge and moved to Chicago during one separation from her husband and there Amelia chose specifically to attend Hyde Park High School because it had the best science program.  She excelled in chemistry and graduated from Hyde Park in 1916 -- by which time she had accumulated a scrapbook full of newspaper clippings she found about women who succeeded in male dominated careers. It was probably around this time -- after the tumult of her parents' marriage and her father's inability to consistently provide for the family -- that she decided she would never rely on someone else to take care of her.

In 1917 Amelia visited her sister in Toronto and ended up volunteering as a nurse's aid for the Red Cross to help minister to wounded soldiers returning from WWI. She came to know and admire the aviators among them.  The flu pandemic reached Toronto in 1918 and in late fall she became a victim herself. She survived, but it took her a year to recover.  She then enrolled in medical studies at Columbia, but quit after a year to join her parents in California where they had reunited.  It was in Long Beach, California that she began her flying lessons with a pioneer female aviator by the name of Anita "Neta" Snook.  

And the rest of Meeley's story became history that is well worth reading. She was a remarkable woman for her time and will be remembered for all time as a fearless woman who succeeded in a field and in endeavors dominated by men.

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First childhood portrait of Amelia Earhart (with ribbon in her hair) is a media file in the public domain in the U.S. -- obtained from

Second childhood portrait of Amelia Earhart from

Photo of adult Amelia Earhart in aviators cap from

For more about Amelia Earhart see . . .

Judith H. Swan, "Amelia Mary Earhart: Woman of the Mayflower," The Mayflower Quarterly Vol. 77 No. 3 (September 2011): 241 - 43.

"Amelia," 20th Century Fox (2009) starring Hilary Swank and Richard Gere [who is also a descendant of Mayflower passenger Richard Warren] and directed by Mira Nair.
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Copyright 2014, John D. Tew
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