Old 05-15-2008, 02:03 AM Offline   #1 (permalink)



 
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Default May 15, 1930: The Skies Get a Little Bit Friendlier

1930: Ellen Church becomes the world's first airline stewardess, working a Boeing Air Transport flight from Oakland, California, to Chicago. The flight takes 20 hours and involves 13 stops along the way.
Church, a registered nurse from Iowa, was so enamored of flying that she became a certified pilot. She approached BAT (the forerunner of United Airlines) looking for a pilot's job, a futile hope for women in those days. But the BAT exec did like Church's other suggestion: that commercial airliners carry nurses on board.
Smelling a publicity coup, and figuring that on-board nurses would help quell the public's fear -- very real at the time -- of flying, he sold her proposal to the boys at the top. BAT hired eight nurses, including Church, for what it thought would be a three-month experiment.
These weren't just any nurses, though.
Even then, there were strict physical requirements for what BAT referred to as "sky girls." In addition to being a registered nurse, the successful candidate had to be single, under 25, no taller than 5-feet-4, and she could weigh no more than 115 pounds. And although it wasn't written down anywhere, the prospective stewardess had to be attractive, at least to the guy doing the hiring.
So they were trim and petite, which did not necessarily suit the rigors of the job. That's because the first stewardesses did a lot more than merely serve passengers, pass out airsick bags or take a pulse now and then. They were expected to haul luggage, screw down loose seats, help with fueling the plane and finally, at day's end, help the pilots push the plane into the hangar.
Glamorous? You bet.
Like a lot of other service jobs, working conditions for stewardesses -- flight attendants in today's parlance -- only improved with their determination to organize and use the power of the union to obtain better pay and benefits.
As for Church, she worked as a stew for 18 months before being grounded as a result of injuries sustained in an automobile accident. She returned to nursing, but her flying days weren't over yet: During World War II, she served as a captain in the Army Nurses Corps, receiving the Air Medal for distinguished service in the European Theater.
After the war, Church continued her nursing career in Terre Haute, Indiana. She was killed in a horseback riding accident in 1965.
The airfield in her hometown of Cresco, Iowa, is named in her honor.
Source: Various

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