“Aviation is proof that given, the will, we have the capacity to achieve the impossible.”
Ellen Church succeeded. Boeing Air Transport, the predecessor of United Airlines agreed to hire eight women, conditionally, for a three-month experiment. The country’s first stewardesses journey began on May 15, 1930, when Church and seven young women began their first day. Where did they fly? Four women flew from San Francisco to Cheyenne, Wyoming and the other four flew from Cheyenne to Chicago.
The stewardess odyssey continued. The original eight stewardesses zoomed past the three months trial period and stayed on as full-time employees. The word of the original sky girls’ success inspired other airlines to recruit their own stewardesses. According to a TIME’s 1938 analysis, the jobs were highly competitive, and the hiring process was steeped in sexism. “To get their $100-to-$120-a-month jobs, applicants for the 300 stewardess posts [since 1930] had to be pretty, petite, single, graduate nurses, 21 to 26 years old, 100 to 120 lbs,” TIME notes. “Many of them found husbands right after they found jobs; few married pilots.”
It wasn’t all glamor. The first stewardess did pour drinks and look pretty, but they also cleaned the cabin, helped fuel the planes and bolted down the seats before take-off. They relied on their medical to assist airsick and panicked passengers. However, they occasionally played the part of first responders in an emergency. One instance happened when Nellie Grander, a 22-year-old TWA stewardess, ministered to critically injured passengers and then stumbled through snowy mountains in search of help after her flight crashed in Pennsylvania in 1936. (TWA rewarded her heroism with a paid cruise in the West Indies, along with a promotion.)
Ellen Church’s dream grew larger. Since the hiring female attendants paid off so well in the air, railroad executives hopped on board and planned to bring some of the sky goddess’ glamor down to earth. But TIME’s 1937 dispatch about a recruitment drive for hostesses on the New Haven rail line revealed that Church’s pioneering efforts did open new doors for female workers, only those with pageant-winning looks and charm were allowed to walk through — in the air or on land. As the story explains: “Candidates are required to be unmarried, 5 ft. 7 in. to 5 ft. 10 in. tall, aged 24 to 35, 115 to 135 lb. in weight. College graduates are strongly preferred. They must pass a “personality test”—i.e., be reasonably personable as well as amiable. Because Superintendent H. W. Quinlan of the New Haven’s dining cars believes that grace of carriage and movement is important, he insists on modeling experience as well as hostess experience.” TimeMagazine