Thiel College awarded aviation and women’s rights pioneer Amelia Earhart H’32 an honorary Doctor of Science degree on Dec. 11, 1932. Earhart’s father, Edwin Earhart, graduated from Thiel in 1886. Edwin’s sister, Kate, attended Thiel, and his father, David Earhart, was one of the founders of the Pittsburgh Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which was a founding partner of the College.
Five months after she disappeared in 1937 while attempting to circumnavigate the globe, Thiel College sought to commemorate the College’s connection to Earhart and started a campaign to raise funds in her honor. Thiel College President Earl S. Rudisill, Ph.D., was quoted in a Pittsburgh newspaper, “Before her last flight, Miss Earhart flew to Cleveland to meet me and expressed a desire…to do something for Thiel College…Apart from her brilliant accomplishments in the science of flight, her devotion to the interest of young womanhood…was a dominant factor of her life.”
“Amelia Earhart was a historic visionary who endeavored to build a world where gender would not be a qualifier for accomplishment. She was an innovator and made a profound impact on our nation and our College,” Thiel College President Susan Traverso, Ph.D., said.
In his book “The Search for Amelia Earhart,” author Fred Goerner said, “The most satisfying recognition, however, came from her father’s alma mater, Thiel College of Greenville, Pennsylvania in the form of an honorary Doctor of Science degree.”
Before disappearing in 1937, Earhart met with Thiel College’s president. Earhart had expressed affection for Thiel during her keynote address in 1932. Because of her affection for the College and her desire to empower women, she had planned to work with and fundraise for groups that would create opportunities for women on campus.
Members of a group founded at Thiel in honor of Earhart met with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. The group raised about $48,000 in 1940—the equivalent of more than $800,000 by today’s standards—to promote and strengthen women’s activities and causes on campus. The spirit of that group can be traced to the women’s groups that exist on campus today.
The main drive on campus is named for her and a large photo covers a wall in the Langenheim Memorial Library.