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Innovation & Growth Initiative: Montgomery County Benchmark
Learn about Abington's Next Century. To access a white paper that compares Abington to the rest of Montgomery County, click here >
Amelia Earhart studied in Rydal
Amelia Earhart endures in the American consciousness as one of the world's most celebrated aviators. Amelia remains a symbol of the power and perseverance of American women, and the adventurous spirit so essential to the American persona. That character and spirit were formed, in part, here in Abington Township.
Born in Kansas in 1897, Amelia spent her formative years in the midwest. Though her maternal grandfather was a successful judge, her father struggled to keep a job as an attorney. The family moved often and was far from wealthy. After attending many schools, she graduated from Hyde Park High School in Chicago in 1916. Soon after, her mother came into an inheritance that enabled Amelia and her sister to attend private schools. With Bryn Mawr as her ultimate goal, Amelia entered The Ogontz School at the Jay Cooke estate that fall. Ogontz School alumnae included familiar names such as Armstrong, Campbell, Dunlap, Gillette, Heinz, Sperry, Squibb and Wrigley.
She was 19 years old when she began her studies in Elkins Park at junior college-level coursework, but as part of a transitional class, she started her second year at the new Rydal location, east of Old York Road in Abington Township. The School's owner and principal Abby Sutherland, purchased 54 acres of land belonging to the Herring estate in 1916. She hired the famed Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer to create a large main building in the style of an English Manor House. Using Trumbauer would elevate the prestige of the new campus and Trumbauer’s reputation as well. Several smaller buildings already on the property allowed Miss Sutherland to separate the older and younger girls. The transition from the beloved old school in Elkins Park was difficult for the students, and alumnae as well, but the demand for modern schoolrooms, gymnasium, swimming pool, and heating system, was compelling.
Amelia was a headstrong girl, firm in her beliefs and willing to stand up for them. This led her to several clashes with the equally willful headmistress Sutherland, and sometimes, with her fellow students. Most widely known was a battle over the retention of sororities. Finding them too exclusive, Amelia – who was already a member of one – sought to have more societies created so that all girls could join. Miss Sutherland’s solution was to disband them entirely. Amelia wound up on an Honor Board, created in part to prevent the sorority girls from disobeying the rules and meeting in secret.
Obviously a natural leader, Amelia was voted class vice-president as a senior. She also was secretary of the Ogontz Red Cross chapter—a group that knitted sweaters for the allied troops in World War I – and secretary/treasurer to a group called Christian Endeavor. The Great War began in August 1914 and had an impact on Amelia. At Christmastime 1917, she visited her sister who was at school in Toronto, Canada, and was moved by the sight of soldiers who had become amputees. She returned to Ogontz in January, but stayed only a few weeks. She would have graduated in June 1918 had she completed the year. But she never finished at Ogontz.
She had decided to become a nurses’ aide in the Voluntary Aid Detachment at a Toronto hospital. She tended to wounded soldiers as the war ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.
The following year, Amelia enrolled as a premedical student at Columbia University in New York. Shortly thereafter, Amelia's parents insisted she move to California where they were living. Learning to fly in California, she took up aviation as a hobby, taking odd jobs to pay for her flying lessons. In 1922, with the financial help of her sister, Muriel, and her mother, Amy Otis Earhart, she purchased her first airplane, a Kinner Airster.
Following her parent's divorce, Amelia moved back east where she was employed as a social worker in Denison House, in Boston. It was there she was selected to be the first female passenger on a transatlantic flight, in 1928, by her future husband, the publisher, George Palmer Putnam. She was not a pilot, but a passenger who rode with Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon in their Fokker tri-motor airplane. This event won Earhart an immense amount of fame, including a ticker tape parade in New York City, and started her career as a major celebrity.
In 1931, Amelia married George, but continued her aviation career under her maiden name. Amelia and George formed a successful partnership. George organized Amelia's flights and public appearances, and arranged for her to endorse a line of flight luggage and sports clothes. George also published two of her books.
Amelia Earhart was the first woman to receive a pilot’s license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale. In 1932, Earhart flew solo across the Atlantic – a first for a woman. She received the Distinguished Flying Cross from Congress, the gold medal of the National Geographic Society and the Cross of the Legion of Honor from France.
Years later, Lady Lindey was asked back to Ogontz to review the battalion at the end-of-year drill competition. The 39 girls in the winning company would forever be able to say that their medals were pinned on by Amelia Earhart. She returned a few more times in subsequent years to give presentations to the student body on her aviation exploits. Amelia was named honorary member of the Class of 1930, and her photograph appeared in an Ogontz yearbook, at last.
Her last flight was in 1937 from New Guinea across the Pacific. The mystery that surrounded Earhart's disappearance made Amelia Earhart one of the world's most famous women.
In 1950, Ogontz School was closed. Penn State Ogontz operated as a two-year campus, until the University renamed it Penn State Abington College, offering four-year baccalaureate degrees.
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