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Old 9th Jun 2005, 17:56   #1 (permalink)

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Smile World's First Airline Stewardess

Saw an article re: the world's first stewardess recently, thought you guys & girls would be interested in seeing how much your professions changed & how it started. Not sure is this the best place for it or 'Aircraft Nostalgia'.

The pioneering flight took off 75 years ago in a Boeing 80A trimotor plane owned & operated by Boeing Air Transport (BST) from Oakland, California to Chicago, Illinois with about 12 pax. The lady in question was the late Ellen Church who overcame the odds in a business world dominated by men & at a time when aviation was a precarious activity, if a still percieved romantic one.

The story is told in the book Come Fly with US! A Global History of the Airline Hostess written by Johanna Omelia & her husband Michael Waldock. Church had initially not wanted to be an airline hostess but a civilian pilot. From rural Iowa she had taken flying lessons in San Francisco & had any of the US's fledgling airlines accepted female pilots she would have been well on her way to the career of her choice. Unfortunately they didn't.

Instead, one day in 1929, Church was window shopping in San Fran when she saw an advert in the window of the BAT office promoting the airlines new service to Chicago & its new male stewarts (i.e. (FA's)Stewarts or 'cabin boys) had first been introduced by Britain's Daimler Airways in 1922 but BAT only introduced them in 1926 after the manager of its San Fran office, Steve Simpson served coffee to pax on a bumpy ride from Salt Lake City.

Church approached him with her new idea: if stewarts were there to keep pax calm, what better way to achieve this & show how safe BaT's planes were by having "weak & fragile women working on the flights". (Their words, not mine!!! ) Also, as the safety & well-being of the customers was of prime concern, she suggested why not insist these stewardesses were trained nurses.

Church helped Simpson recruit & train seven women & the pair drew up a manual to guide the new staff. To highlight the professionalism of the so-called Original Eight, the women were given a dark-green, double-breasted wool suit with silver buttons & a woll cap as a uniform to wear in the draughty & unheated cabins. The cape's pockets wree needed to be large enough to hold a soanner & a screwdriver to secure the pax's wicker chairs to the floor of the cabin & a railway timetable should the flight be delayed or abandoned & pax had to be found alternate ways to get to their destination.

In those days flying was a terrifying experience. Planes were flown below 10,000ft because there was no oxygen so you flew below the weather & into it. Money was made by flying post & there were only 12-15 pax on board. Applicants had to weigh less than 115lb (to permit maximum capacity for mail) & be no taller than 5ft 4in. They had to be no older than 25 & after the trial of the Original Eight-single (since during the trial one stewardesses' husband kept ringing Simpson whenever his wife's flight was delayed & she was late coming home. (typical )

The new staff were paid 125 a month & were taught basic aeronautics and the physics of the aircraft they were flying in so they could explain to pax any changes in the noise of the engine or any turbulence.

One of the Original Eight, Harriet Fry Iden, who died in 1979 recalled:

"Our lavatory was very nice with hot and cold water but the toilet was a can set in a ring & a hole cut in the floor so when one opened the toilet seat, behold, open-air toilet! Soon chemical toilets made their debut. The only thing wrong with them was in rough weather and turbulence: I would often see the contents of the toilet running out into our cabin from under the door which meant a quick mop-up. That, I did not like".
For all the hardships the stewardesses had to endure it soon paid dividends. After their introduction bookings at BAT soared by 30%. Soon all other airlines were following suit.

However tragedy was about to strike this groundbreaking woman; after just 18 months working as an FA, she was grounded after a car accident. In 1964 she married but died more than a year later in a horse riding accident.

Today, anyone who flies into the towm where she grew up, Cresco, will land at the Ellen Church Field.

Bet you guys & gals are glad you're doing the job now & not then.

Here's a link for you:


(Loads of other lovely links on aviation for you to click at the top etc tracing the history & development of aviation )



Last edited by Omaha; 9th Jun 2005 at 18:36.
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Old 10th Jun 2005, 01:04   #2 (permalink)
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I think most of the rest of the originals are flying for Northwest now. Altho there might be a couple on AA and UA as well.
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Old 10th Jun 2005, 13:11   #3 (permalink)

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I think most of the rest of the originals are flying for Northwest now. Altho there might be a couple on AA and UA as well.
What are you on about mate, you trying to wind me up or something? You smoking or are on something mate? We're talking about people who were in their twenties in the 1920's. The only place the're likely to be flying now is with the angels.

Last edited by Omaha; 10th Jun 2005 at 13:23.
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Old 10th Jun 2005, 13:57   #4 (permalink)
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I think s/he was alluding to advanced age of said cabin crew as a joke.
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Old 10th Jun 2005, 15:03   #5 (permalink)
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There was an article in the LHR newspaper 'Skyport' a few years ago about a United Flight Attendant who was about 70. Apparently as long as she kept passing her yearly medical she was Ok to fly!
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Old 13th Jun 2005, 06:55   #6 (permalink)
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Sorry Omaha not taking the piss out your post or you, just the flight attendants that fly long haul from the US.
Seriously, have you ever flown NWA? The young and beautiful are heavily out numbered by the old and err slightly large.
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Old 13th Jun 2005, 08:11   #7 (permalink)
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....er, yes. Matronly, as they are often affectionately described. Not like the young girls you find at VS these days.
Old 13th Jun 2005, 13:06   #8 (permalink)

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Ah ha get your mate, sorry for the confusion.

No I've never flown NWA, being from the other side of the pond the only US airline I've flown is UAL though from reading these pages I should have gathered what you were alluding too.
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Old 13th Jun 2005, 23:50   #9 (permalink)

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I think most of the rest of the originals are flying for Northwest now. Altho there might be a couple on AA and UA as well.
Reminds me of a poster seen in the lift at my airport recently, "Ms X is retiring, too old for BA but a Babe for American". Made me laugh
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Old 14th Jun 2005, 00:59   #10 (permalink)
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"Stewarts" ?????????????

I think you meant "Stewards"
Just as an aside,the origins of the term "Stewards" stem from seafaring days of old.
In those days pork was a staple meat diet on sailing ships and the person who looked after the live pigs before slaughter was the "Sty"(as in pig sty) Warden.
The term "Steward" is a deritive of the old nautical position of "Styward"
A cynical person may say not much has changed in 2 or 3 hundred years.

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Old 14th Jun 2005, 13:20   #11 (permalink)

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Sorry mate.

Was having one of my dyslexic moments. (Found your hypothesis interesting being interested in Maritime issues.)

What I noticed with some of the the American FA's was not their age but their bossiness.

After deciding to visit the ladies after the plane had landed I left the door open in my haste to depart the aircraft, afraid I might hold people up.

An FA was standing nearby & barked 'door' at me.

I apologised meekly like a scolded child & returned to close it.

On another occasion, being smaller than average in stature & sometimes having difficulty putting stuff in overhead lockers I looked at the female FA to aid me. I was put in my place very quickly & told to manage it myself, mind you these lockers were designed a little but better than on this side of the pond for little people like me & the task, to my surprise, was manageable.

Still I was surprised at her unprofessional abruptness, being used to sophisticated, professionally mannered & polite European FA's. Granted I did notice later she was wearing a large bandage on her hand which did reprieve her somewhat.

Last edited by Omaha; 14th Jun 2005 at 17:21.
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