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Women’s History Month – Ellen Church

Date: March 5, 2021

As we celebrate Women's History Month, AFA will be spotlighting various women who were, and some who still are, paving the way for all working women and men.

First, let us look back at women we have profiled in the past.  Ellen Church, the first female Flight Attendant to ever fly. 

Church, according to the National Air & Space Museum, was a nurse from Iowa. She was a licensed pilot, and wanted to be hired by a major airline, an idea that was far ahead of its time.

She realized that she had no chance for becoming a pilot at the time. Instead, she convinced William Patterson, assistant to the President of Boeing Air Transport, an early predecessor to United Airlines, with the idea of introducing the presence of female nurses to help relieve the public’s fear of flying.

Mr. Patterson gave his approval to hire eight nurses to work as stewardesses on a three-month trial basis and Ellen Church developed the job description and training program for the first class of eight stewardesses.

Because of the cabin size and weight-carrying limitations of those early airliners, the “original eight” stewardesses were limited to a height of 5 feet, 4 inches and maximum weight of 115 pounds. They were required to be registered nurses and could not to be more than 25 years old. Their salary was $125.00 per month.

At 8:00 a.m., May 15, 1930, a Boeing tri-motor left Oakland and flew to Chicago with Ellen Church, the world’s first stewardess on board. Passengers applauded the experiment and Boeing officials enthusiastically endorsed it as a great success.

Unfortunately for Church, her airborne career came to an end after only 18 months when she was injured in an automobile accident. Over time, Church recovered from those injuries sufficiently to resume medical work. During World War II, she served as a flight nurse in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps and was awarded an Air Medal.

Customer demand for stewardesses became a powerful business consideration and our profession was born because of Ellen Church’s idea that transformed the airline industry.

Today, we stand 
on the shoulders of the profession Ellen Church created. Our occupation has evolved into a valued and respected career. From the glamour girl image to our struggle for equality, and recognition of our responsibilities as first responders and safety professionals all led by a radical idea.

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