Amelia Earhart is among those rare celebrities who are as familiar today as they were in their own time. Photographs of the iconic aviator, with tousled hair, leather jacket, and silk scarf, helped to secure her fame and ensure its perpetuation. Her disappearance over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 is undeniably part of the story; the dramatic and unsolved circumstances of her demise, and the lack of physical evidence, are powerful factors to contribute to keeping her image alive in the popular consciousness, and the trope of the popular hero who dies dramatically at the height of fame is a familiar one. […]
She has become an increasingly abstract symbol -of the thrill and danger of adventure, of the possibilities for women, and of the courage to break with the past and conventional expectations. In this process, her image has become consolidated, and only those photographs that convey those ideals can stand in for her. A dramatic and conspiracy theory-plagued disappearance (rather than death) has kept the narrative open-ended, and aided in the afterlife of photographs of Earhart. But it is the continued need for a symbol of the ideals she embodies that is the source of their relevance and appeal.”
Kristen Lubben, “Fame, Flight, and the New Woman: Photographs of Amelia Earhart” in Amelia Earhart: Image and Icon, 2007.