"Back then, women were part of families, but there were other women who had other ideas, and she was one of them. She wanted to be independent and fashion some career. Once she found aviation, she knew she wanted to do it. She was a role model as far as being a career woman, and even the career she selected was extraordinary."
And she was accepted into the boys' club of pilots, says Cochrane, because she was serious about aviation.
"If you were a woman and showed some real interest and talent and kept at it, you would be accepted," says Cochrane.
Earhart gained national attention in 1928 when she was the first female passenger on the Fokker Friendship, which successfully flew across the Atlantic.
She made her own nonstop solo flight across the Atlantic 77 years ago this month. Earhart also accomplished the first solo transcontinental flight by a woman in 1932 and in 1935 made the first solo flight by anyone from Hawaii to the U.S. mainland.
Her disappearance -- along with navigator Fred Noonan -- on July 2, 1937, added to her mystique.
"It's one of the great mysteries of the 20th century," said Cochrane. "Such a famous person literally just disappearing off the face of the Earth and there is nothing left. . . ."
Official search efforts lasted until July 19, then Putnam financed a private search. By 1939, he had given up hope and declared her officially dead.
Over the years, historians and researchers have mulled over what happened -- one thought is that she and Noonan crash-landed on uninhabited Gardner Island and perished; during World War II, it was believed she may have been spying on the Japanese for President Roosevelt -- that was the theme of "Flight for Freedom" -- and another theory posits that she and Noonan were captured and later executed by the Japanese when their plane crashed on Saipan Island.
Cochrane said there are many reasons why they didn't reach their next destination of Howland Island.
"It's only two miles long and less than a mile wide," she said. "She had a very good navigator. They should have been able to find it. But they also say that she had an old map, so the island was off about six miles."
Earhart knew the risks of flying, but that never stopped her.
"She tried to keep the sky very present in her life, because she needed it like oxygen," said Nair.
"She was incredibly stylish, but it was her passion with her occupation that created that particular style.
"She always marched to her own drum, but her life was not about herself. It was the larger good -- who she could impact."