On Nov. 5, 1936, Anne Fiyalka was a sophomore at Warren Harding High School in Bridgeport, Connecticut, when Amelia Earhart came to the school to talk to a student assembly. Fiyalka didn’t know it, but her life was about to take a very unexpected turn.
Earhart, the renowned aviator, was arguably one of the most famous women in the world at the time. Her exploits in the sky were the stuff of legends: She had become the first woman to fly a plane solo across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932, and subsequently set numerous women’s aviation records for speed and distance. Earhart was in the midst of planning an unprecedented flight around the world, and even her personal life was the subject of countless newspaper headlines and newsreel stories. She also was a well-known speaker, appearing at many public events to talk about her adventures.
In addition to talking about her experiences, Earhart spoke to the girls-only assembly about serving as a role model. “She said it’s not only a man’s world — it’s a woman’s world as well,” Fiyalka, now 101, recalled.
The sudden turn for Fiyalka came after the assembly, when she was told she was one of three female honor students chosen to take a flight with Earhart from a local airport. Fiyalka said she had never flown in a plane, which would hardly be unexpected since commercial flights were expensive luxuries at the time.
Her recollections of that event are still clear: The flight occurred almost immediately after the assembly. Fiyalka and her fellow students crawled inside a Lockheed Electra with Earhart, and comfort was not the plane’s first priority.
“It was so noisy that you couldn’t talk in the airplane,” Fiyalka said. “I’ll never forget taxiing in the airplane, and then the wheels left the earth.”