As a young girl, Amelia Earhart, or Meelie as her family called her, lived with her grandparents most of the year in Atchison, Kansas. Her father worked as a claims agent for the railroads, and her mother traveled with him often. Amelia and her younger sister Muriel spent the summers with their parents. In her autobiography, Amelia looked back on her early childhood as a very happy time because family members who loved her and cousins who served as playmates always surrounded her. One of Amelia’s favorite games, called bogie, involved crouching in an old carriage in her grandparents’ barn while pretending to travel to foreign countries.
Though she didn’t travel to other continents until she started flying, she did travel a lot as she grew up. Amelia said, “Because I selected a father who was a railroad man it has been my fortune to roll.” When Amelia and her sister were old enough to go to school, their parents took them on their dad’s business trips. As a result, Amelia traveled throughout the country, visiting states as far away as California. The Earharts thought traveling to new places taught Amelia and Muriel more than they learned sitting in school, though the girls still got good grades despite missing classes.
The family’s trip to the fair in St. Louis sparked Amelia’s interest in new inventions. She was so thrilled by the roller coaster at the fair that she built her own back in Atchison. Meelie and her cousins constructed a track from the roof of the woodshed down to the ground. The “car” was a board placed on roller skates. Amelia went down in the car, which flipped over as it hit the ground. She was less concerned about falling than on fixing her invention, but she had to give up because her mother and grandmother thought it was too dangerous. As one of Amelia’s childhood friends recalled, Meelie was the “the instigator” who would “dare anything; we would all follow along.”
Being the daughter of a railroad man, especially one who was careless with money and soon started drinking, meant that Amelia didn’t live in one place for very long. In 1906, when Amelia was eleven, the family moved to Des Moines, Iowa. At the Iowa State fair the following year, Amelia saw her first airplane. She described it as “a thing of rusty wire and wood.” The plane didn’t impress her at the time, but she had yet to see one in motion. Other moves throughout the Midwest followed, challenging Amelia’s spirit and giving her a reputation as “the girl in brown who walks alone.”
Amelia escaped her family’s problems somewhat by attending a boarding school near Philadelphia. There she made new friends and started to enjoy her classes. Though she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do with her life, Amelia kept a scrapbook of accomplished women who were the first or only women in their fields. Later as she embarked on her aviation career, other girls would admire Amelia Earhart as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.