A brief history of flight attendants
CREDIT UNITED Kingdom's Imperial Airways with the first use of flight attendants in the early 1920s, of "cabin boys" or "stewards," drawn from the maritime term "chief steward." The first U.S. air carrier to employ stewards, in 1926, was Stout Airways.
In 1928, Western Airlines became the first airline to have stewards serve onboard food. It was not microwaved.
United Airlines was the first to hire a woman, Ellen Church, 25, a registered nurse, in 1930.
That move combined "safety" and "wow," which other airlines quickly copied, hiring nurses as flight attendants, then usually called "stewardesses" or "air hostesses" or even "sky girls." A college degree was required.
"They were required to be registered nurses, not over 25 years old, no taller than 5 foot 4 inches and no heavier than 115 pounds. They were paid $125 a month for 100 hours of flying," according to "Turbulent Romance," a film history produced by their union, the Association of Flight Attendants.
Because it was the Great Depression, and because there were few other professional careers for women, large numbers applied for the few open jobs. By 1936, women had all but replaced men as cabin attendants. In that era and moving forward, it was regarded as a glamorous career. That pretty much ended as carriers used larger and larger aircraft and stuffed them with passengers, transforming the excitement of flight into the tediousness of a bus ride.
The requirement that stewardess be registered nurses was relaxed over time and disappeared during World War II when many nurses enlisted in the military.
While looks seem to be important, fitness is more so, as can be seen in a 1966 Eastern Airlines classified ad:
"A high school graduate, single (widows and divorcees with no children considered), 20 years of age (girls 19 1/2 may apply for future consideration). 5'2" but no more than 5'9", weight 105 to 135 in proportion to height and have at least 20/40 vision without glasses."
For many years, the requirement that women be single was so strict that they could be fired if they married. Or if they took a lover. Especially if they became pregnant.
It wasn't until the '70s they won the right to marry and keep their jobs.
- Stu Bykofsky