GREENVILLE, Pa.—Historian, author and Thiel College President Susan Traverso, Ph.D., hopes recent developments and ongoing research into the 80-year-old mystery surrounding one of the College’s most famous honorary degree recipients, Amelia Earhart H’32, will call attention to and renew interest in the achievements of the aviation and women’s rights pioneer.
“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,” Traverso said. “The magnitude of her achievements has made her a mythological figure in our nation’s history. Earhart was described as a smiling, confident, capable, and compassionate human being and those qualities—combined with her bravery, drive and spirit—make her as relevant in our national consciousness today as she was 80 years ago.”
Traverso’s connection to Earhart also includes research Traverso conducted regarding women’s rights and social welfare programs in early 20th century Boston—including Denison House, where Earhart worked before beginning her career in aviation.
A newly discovered photo is the centerpiece of the claim that Earhart was captured and died while being held captive by the Japanese. A show exploring that possibility airs on the History channel on Sunday. Earhart has been the subject of two news stories on the NBC “Today Show” recently, and an expedition is in its second week of looking for Earhart’s remains on the former Gardner Island, now Nikumaroro in the Republic of Kiribati.
On Dec. 11, 1932, Earhart was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree by Thiel College. Earlier that year, she was awarded the National Geographic Society’s gold medal by President Herbert Hoover and the Distinguished Flying Cross by the U.S. Congress. Earhart’s father, Edwin, graduated from Thiel College in 1886. Edwin Earhart’s sister, Kate, also attended Thiel College and was present when Amelia Earhart was awarded her honorary degree.
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 while attempting to circumnavigate the globe, 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.
About Thiel College
Thiel College is an independent college founded in the Lutheran tradition. Located in Greenville, Pa., the College offers 60 majors and minors, 24 varsity sports, and an 11:1 student-faculty ratio. The College is also home to a new Master of Science in speech-language pathology and 2Master of Business Administration. Both master’s degree programs offer innovative and accelerated five-year paths which allow students to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years. The speech-language pathology program also has an accelerated 15-month graduate-level program. The M.B.A. program also has a 12-month post-graduate program.A dedicated faculty paired with dynamic research and internship opportunities produce numerous graduate school and job placements. Coeducational from its beginnings, the College remains committed to combining tradition with innovation as it celebrates 150 years.