Airline History – The Stewardess – MAD MEN: Set in 1960s New York, the sexy, stylized and provocative AMC drama Mad Men follows the lives of the ruthlessly competitive men and women of Madison Avenue advertising, an ego-driven world where key players make an art of the sell.
Stewardesses play apart in the MAD MEN TV series and our a part of the social history of the JFK to Johnson decade. Here’s a look at the women flight attendants who flew Pan Am, TWA and PSA – vanished American institutions and airlines. The period of MAD MEN.
The role of a flight attendant ultimately derives from that of similar positions on passenger ships or passenger trains, but it has more direct involvement with passengers because of the confined quarters and often shorter travel times on aircraft. Additionally, the job of a flight attendant revolves around safety to a much greater extent than those of similar staff on other forms of transportation. Flight attendants on board a flight collectively form a cabin crew, as distinguished from pilots and engineers in the cockpit.
The first flight attendant, a steward, was reportedly a man on the German Zeppelin LZ10 Schwaben in 1911.
Origins of the word “steward” in transportation are reflected in the term “steward” as used in maritime transport terminology. The term purser and chief steward are often used interchangeably describing personnel with similar duties among seafaring occupations. This lingual derivation results from the international British maritime tradition dating back to the 14th century and the civilian United States Merchant Marine which US aviation is somewhat modeled. Due to international conventions and agreements, in which all ships’ personnel who sail internationally are similarly documented by their respective countries, the U.S. Merchant Marine assigns such duties to the chief steward in the overall rank and command structure of which pursers are not positionally represented or rostered.
Imperial Airways of the United Kingdom had “cabin boys” or “stewards”; in the 1920s. In the USA, Stout Airways was the first to employ stewards in 1926, working on Ford Trimotor planes between Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Western Airlines (1928) and Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) (1929) were the first US carriers to employ stewards to serve food. Ten-passenger Fokker aircraft used in the Caribbean had stewards in the era of gambling trips to Havana, Cuba from Key West, Florida. Lead flight attendants would in many instances also perform the role of purser, steward, or chief steward in modern aviation terminology.
Ellen Church pioneers sky job for women: The position of flight attendant remained largely undefined until Ellen Church entered the aviation industry in 1930. A registered nurse who had taken flying lessons, Church approached Steve Stimpson of Boeing Air Transport seeking an airline job, possibly as a pilot. Instead Stimpson and Church created a stewardessing occupation for registered nurses.
Church’s timing was critical. Stimpson, recently back from a long flight, saw the need for cabin attendants and urged his employer to add a courier to the crew. Stimpson had already hired three male couriers when Church visited his offices on Feb. 23, 1930. After meetings with Church, Stimpson tried to sell his idea of a nurse-stewardess to his superiors, citing the national publicity that would result.
William A Patterson, assistant to the president of Boeing Air Transport, decided to embark on what others in the airline industry considered a daring experiment. He gave his approval to hire eight nurses to work as stewardesses on a three-month trial basis. At 8:00 a.m., May 15, 1930, a Boeing tri-motor left Oakland enroute to Chicago with Ellen Church, the world’s first stewardess, aboard.
At the end of the three-month stewardess experiment, Boeing officials enthusiastically endorsed it a great success. Church, a chief stewardess, was deluged by applications from both men and women eager to experience the adventure and mobility the new flying job offered. Church became responsible for directing and determining standards for the new job. In the station manager’s absence, she supervised food service, bought equipment and handled the passengers in and out of Cheyenne, Wyo. Thus, Church pioneered another first; she was among the first women to work in a management position in the emerging aviation industry.
Although the aviation industry followed United’s lead in hiring women to work on airplanes, some did so reluctantly. Eastern hired seven hostesses on a year’s probationary period to work its 18-passenger Curtiss Condors. In 1933, American Airlines trained four registered nurses to serve as its first stewardesses. The new flying job for women pioneered by the original eight nurse stewardesses was becoming an accepted idea for U.S.-based carriers and European airlines. Stewardesses were special to William A. Patterson, who later became the president of United Air Lines, the successor company to Boeing Air Transport. As his associate John Hill recalled, “My God, it was an honor to be a stewardess. United had started the profession of stewardessing, and they were so proud of it.”
In 1962, St Bona of Pisa, a 12th-century pilgrim, was canonized by Pope John XXIII as patron saint of air hostesses.
HISTORY OF THE STEWARDESS – FROM THE BEGINNINGS TO THE MAD MEN ERA
1933: An icon is born America had a new icon of femininity, declared the Toledo Sunday Times: the airline stewardess “goes to work 5,000 feet above the earth, rushing through space at a rate of three miles a minute. She has been eulogized, glorified, publicized, and fictionalized during her comparatively short existence. She has become the envy of stenographers in New York and farmers’ daughters in Iowa. She seems to be on the way to becoming to American girlhood what policemen, pilots, and cowboys are to American boyhood.”
1936: Uber-women aloft An article in Literary Digest from 1936, titled “Flying Supermen and Superwomen,” noted that airlines put as much extraordinary care into selecting their stewardesses as they did with pilots. Would intermarriage between the two groups, the article breathlessly asked, yield “a race of superior Americans”?
1943: What more could you want? No wonder stewardesses received such favorable attention from the press and the public. As a female writer for Independent Woman admiringly concluded, they exuded “the skill of a Nightingale, the charm of a Powers model and the kitchen wisdom of a Fanny Farmer”—an ideal blend of traditional and modern femininity.
1955: Playboy’s “Miss December” United stewardess Barbara Cameron posed for Playboy Magazine as “Miss December” in 1955. She appeared again exactly three years later as the “The Girl Next Door” in the line-up of “most popular playmates” marking the magazine’s fifth anniversary. A notable departure from the usually very respectable stewardess mystique of the postwar era, and a foreshadowing of the reputation for promiscuity that female flight attendants would acquire, through little effort of
their own, by the 1970s.
1958: “Glamor Girls of the Air” When American Airlines opened a new stewardess training facility, Life Magazine marked the occasion with a tribute to flight attendants, “Glamor Girls of the Air: For Lucky Ones Being Hostess is the Mostest,” which perfectly captured the postwar vision of stewardesses as cosmopolitan brides-in-training. On Life’s cover were two brightly smiling stewardesses, and inside were trainees preparing for “one of the most coveted careers open to young American women today.” “The job they want does not pay extraordinarily well, only $255 to $355 a month. The life is irregular and the opportunities for promotion are small. But the chance to fly, to see the world and meet all sorts of interesting people—mostly the kind of men who can afford to travel by plane—gives the job real glamour.”
1965: A showgirl or jet-propelled waitress? The jet age, with its crowded, speedier flights and more motley passenger population posed a new challenge to stewardesses’ glamour image. It was with the advent of jets that travelers and pundits (and occasionally flight attendants themselves) began to speak of the stewardess as merely a glorified waitress and flying itself began losing its cosmopolitan allure. Nonetheless, a female reporter for the Des Moines Register wittily suggested how durable stewardesses’ image was in “Meet the Girl Who Wears Those Silver Wings and a Big Smile”: “The airline stewardess, 1965, has one of the most frustrating jobs in the world. Male passengers expect her to look like a Las Vegas showgirl, and are angry when she doesn’t. Female passengers are angry when she does, and are fond of calling her a ‘flying waitress.’ Bachelors say she’s not as glamorous as she used to be, yet would trade their collection of James Bond paperbacks for a date with her.”