The Great Stewardess Rebellion With Nell McShane Wulfhart

E book assessment by Elizabeth Foxwell

Girdle checks. Public weigh-ins. Automated termination at age 32. Such had been the circumstances skilled by many feminine flight attendants within the not-so-friendly skies of the Sixties and Seventies, as journalist Nell McShane Wulfhart makes clear on this compelling account. Removed from dwelling the stylish picture of worldwide jet-setters, American flight attendants—numbering greater than 20,000 by 1967—labored punishing schedules, earned wages usually decrease than these of cleansing crews, had been portrayed as intercourse objects fairly than essential security professionals, and misplaced their jobs in the event that they gained weight, grew to become pregnant or married. Wulfhart illustrates her factors with some modern commercials within the e book, together with Braniff Worldwide’s 1965 “Air Strip” marketing campaign, which had flight attendants take away articles of clothes all through every flight. Thwarted of their efforts for extra simply remedy from their union and airline administration, flight attendants enlisted outstanding feminists akin to Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan for help, undertook efforts at group and publicity and turned to the fledgling Equal Employment Alternative Fee for authorized motion underneath Title VII of 1964’s Civil Rights Act, though the EEOC tended to prioritize race fairly than intercourse discrimination. Authorized circumstances—together with these of males, who had been largely shut out of the flight attendant career—resonated past the airline business and established essential precedents for fairness within the office.

Wulfhart follows just a few key gamers on this struggle. Amongst them are feisty flight attendant Patt Gibbs, who later grew to become a pilot and union president; diplomatic flight attendant Tommie Hutto-Blake, who additionally served as a union president; flight attendant Brian Hagerty, who confronted homophobia; and flight attendant Cheryl Stewart, who encountered unusual questions akin to “How does it really feel to be coloured?” Their inspiring tales of grit and guts illuminate a darkish house in aviation.


(Transcript has been flippantly edited for readability.)

Good morning, or good afternoon or good night. Wherever you’re, or wherever chances are you’ll be listening. I’m Tom Huntington. I’m the editor of Aviation Historical past journal. At present I’m more than happy to be right here with Nell McShane Wulfhart, the writer of a brand new e book, The Nice Stewardess Rise up, which is a really fascinating e book, and we can be speaking about that this morning.

Earlier than I try this, although, I’m going to present you slightly plug for the journal in case you have got by no means heard of it earlier than. If that’s the case, disgrace on you. We’re Aviation Historical past, we cowl all points of the heritage of flight—balloons, jets, propellers, navy, civil and business. And clearly, at the moment we’ll be trying slightly bit on the business side of aviation.

The Nice Stewardess Rise up

by Nell McShane Wulfhart, Doubleday Publishing, April 2022, $24.75

This put up comprises affiliate hyperlinks. In case you purchase one thing via our website, we would earn a fee.

You may learn a treasure trove of fabric from the 9 magazines in our historical past group—every part from the wild west to the Civil Warfare to World Warfare II. And you may as well subscribe to the journal on the web site there. So, I encourage you to do this.

And now with out additional ado, let’s return and start the interview with Nell McShane Wulfhart and The Nice Stewardess Rise up.

There have been locations within the e book the place I simply needed to put it down and shake my head in disbelief. the blatant sexism that would appear unrealistic if it had been even on an episode Mad Males, however this was actual life and it actually occurred. What was it that prompted you to put in writing this e book?

Properly, I feel each journalist spends a number of their time desirous about e book concepts. We’re all the time in search of the good thought, and I type of processed a number of them. And after I stumbled upon this one, it was truly throughout an interview with Adam Conover. He has kind of a TV present the place he does fable busting, and he was describing to me that once we take into consideration the golden age of journey, we take into consideration Mad Males, we take into consideration Don Draper or cocktails in top notch , roast beef, this extraordinarily luxurious expertise. However how the flip facet of that was that for the ladies working the cabin, the stewardesses, it was probably the most sexist office in America. The working circumstances had been horrible. And he was telling me about this. And I used to be like, that seems like it might make an excellent e book. After which I kind of ran off and wrote it.

Inform me slightly bit about a few of the indignities that flight attendants, or stewardesses as they referred to as them again then, needed to face throughout this “golden age” of air journey?

Properly, there are various and even to get the job, you needed to meet a really lengthy checklist of standards. It needed to be—you needed to have very straight enamel, for instance. You couldn’t put on glasses. You needed to be a sure top, and also you needed to be a sure weight. The airways all had extraordinarily strict weight restrictions that had been decided in accordance with top. So, all the ladies on the airplane had been very slim, and at the least originally of the sixties, it was a given that you simply needed to be white. So, in the event you managed to leap via all these hoops and move that check, as soon as you bought on the airplane, then you definitely needed to…properly, you needed to put on girdle always. You needed to keep that weight as a result of any supervisor or pilot might pull you onto a scale at any level and in the event you had been just a few kilos over your weight, you could possibly be taken off the flight. After which there was the restrict of your tenure as a result of in the event you received married, you had been fired, in the event you received pregnant, you had been fired. And in the event you handle to keep away from each of these issues, whenever you turned 32 you’d be fired.

What got here first, did you begin researching the e book after which discover these folks, or did you discover these folks after which begin researching the e book?

These two issues occurred on the identical time. The 2 most important characters in my e book—I additionally kind of consider them that means, though they’re actual folks they usually’re nonetheless alive and I discuss to them on a regular basis—the 2 ladies I give attention to, Patt Gibbs and Tommy Hutto-Blake, they kind of spearheaded this employee’s rebel, this revolution within the air, and so their story is actually certain up in the entire story of the stewardesses and the way they managed to alter their office. And it’s type of like a private transformation that occurs together with a office transformation, with knowledgeable transformation.

At what level did you particularly hunt down these folks? As you probably did your analysis you stated oh, it is a crucial individual for the story I’m telling so I must get in contact together with her.

Properly, that’s precisely what occurred. Like these names got here to the highest nearly instantly in my analysis after which it seems whenever you’re researching a e book on stewardesses within the sixties and seventies that just about everyone is aware of a girl who was a stewardess within the sixties and seventies. It was a very standard job. I imply, it was a really unique, aspirational job. The airways offered it as extremely glamorous, journey the world, be free, be unbiased. So, it was very arduous to get that job. However this actually was the age at which air business air journey, as I’m positive your readers know, was actually ramping up and they also wanted a number of stewardesses. And within the sixties, whenever you had been a girl in search of a job, you could possibly be a nurse, you could possibly be a trainer, you could possibly be a person’s secretary, however these had been type of your choices and so stewardess—in the event you had been slightly extra unbiased, otherwise you needed to get out of your hometown—stewardess actually was a dream job for that.

It was additionally appeared on in society at giant as a type of a placeholder job. It was enjoyable. It was glamorous, it was slightly frivolous and positively not something that any would think about a profession.

Completely. I imply, I feel the common tenure of a stewardess within the sixties was lower than three years. I imply, most of them received married they usually couldn’t hold their jobs after they received married. So, like, they had been gone. And people explicit restrictions, the wedding, the being pregnant, the age guidelines, they kind of had the double impact of not solely conserving the workforce, very, very younger and conventionally engaging, which was a means that they introduced in clients, but it surely additionally had the impact on these ladies themselves as a result of, it’s not likely price your whereas to start out preventing for issues like advantages or pensions or pay raises whenever you solely count on to be on the job for a few years.

Are you able to inform me slightly bit about this photograph? That is one in all your principal folks on this shot, I imagine.

Patt Gibbs (left) will get groomed on the “appeal farm” (Courtesy Patt Gibbs)

Yeah. On the right-hand facet of the photograph, within the mirror, that’s Patt Gibbs. She’s my most important character, actually, I might say, and it is a photograph of her at stewardess faculty in 1961. So American Airways opened up this big campus simply to coach stewardesses. And whenever you had been employed for the job, whenever you’d handed all the load necessities and made positive you didn’t have any unpleasant scars or zits, you ended up on the stewardess faculty, which was colloquially often known as the “appeal farm.” And also you spent six weeks on the appeal farm dwelling in a dorm, consuming at a cafeteria and being educated to be a stewardess. And a few of the time was about emergency evacuations and security procedures. However more often than not was about styling your hair in the precise means, utilizing the suitable company-sponsored make-up and having your nails polished precisely the precise means. It was largely about look. And after you spent six weeks on the appeal farm, you’d be despatched off to your base.

I recall an incident within the e book the place a flight attendant spilled espresso on her uniform and didn’t have a spare uniform and was subsequently compelled to put on a uniform with a espresso stain and was fired for that. Is that right?

Sure. She was suspended for that, okay, with out pay. Sure. And it was it was principally a type of restrictions. The uniform restrictions had been unbelievable. Patt, the lady on the precise within the photograph, she incurred a disciplinary infraction at one level for not carrying her white gloves—gloves had been a part of the stewardess uniform—on an worker bus, as a result of she was imagined to be carrying her whole uniform and went out in public, regardless that the one folks round her had been fellow American Airways staff. So, all these restrictions, these are kind of the little incidents that begin to spark this stewardess rebel, as a result of folks like Patt began to understand that, , being suspended with out pay as a result of it was a turbulent flight and a passenger spilled espresso in your uniform, didn’t appear fairly honest.

Let’s have a look at a few of the promoting now. This one in a way was higher than the common as a result of it does dispel the parable that it’s all glamour and that these ladies didn’t work very arduous. On the underside of this advert there’s a kind of phrase balloon popping out from the airplane that claims she’s going to make somebody an excellent spouse. That just about sums it up. These weren’t “severe staff.” This was a placeholder job till they received married.

(Courtesy Nell McShane Wulfhart)

The airways completely labored on the picture of the stewardess as a spouse in coaching. They usually talked about this, even after they had hearings they usually went to battle over the age rule and the wedding rule. They went so arduous on the concept they had been coaching America’s wives, there have been advert after advert that speak about oh, you’re going to fulfill a girl who can serve meals to 150 folks at one time. I’m unsure what number of ladies had been actually required to do this frequently within the sixties or seventies, but it surely was a promoting level that she was all the time smiling, all the time completely organized from head to toe, not a hair misplaced. And one thing that you simply’ll see in advert after advert—in the event you look in my e book, there’s much more of those and a few of them are actually outrageous—however that they have to all the time be smiling. That was an absolute job requirement.

And actually, when the time period “emotional labor” was coined, Arlie Hochschild was referring to stewardesses as a result of smiling was completely like a job requirement. It was one thing you couldn’t get round. They needed to look joyful whereas they had been working so arduous.

Oh, completely. I feel probably the most shocking and appalling advert within the e book is, it was Braniff who did a factor referred to as the “Braniff Air Strip” wherein the stewardesses would take away an article of clothes all through the flight. They didn’t get bare or something however that was the implication, after all.

That was truly an advert that got here out in 1965. And that was the primary advert that basically began what I might think about kind of a downward pattern into actually sexualizing the stewardesses. Earlier than that a number of the adverts had been type of just like the one you can see in entrance of you, proper? Now they’re speaking concerning the arduous work the stewardesses are doing, how they handle their passengers. They’re nearly thought of like moms on the airplane, after which with the Braniff Air Strip, issues actually take a flip for the sexual they usually posit stewardesses as like type of like “sky bunnies.” I feel was a time period that they tossed round loads. Yeah, a few of these adverts are actually outrageous, however they get extra degrading because the years go by.

One of the well-known advert campaigns of all is the “Fly Me” advert, which you continue to hear folks type of confer with that in dialog. What airline was this?

(Courtesy Nell McShane Wulfhart)

This was Nationwide Airways, which not exists. Like many airways in my e book.

I recall that a few of the folks in your e book had been slightly ticked off about, not solely this advert, but in addition the best way folks would deal with them, saying, “Why don’t you fly me?”

That’s precisely proper. So, this kind of double which means of those adverts—and these adverts had been all over the place, they usually featured actual stewardesses. So, the Cheryl that you simply’re taking a look at proper now, Cheryl was an actual working stewardess they usually had “I’m Donna, fly me,” “I’m Karen, fly me.” They’d even paint these names on the planes so you could possibly watch Cheryl flying by within the sky.

So, the entire the entire “fly me” advert was one thing that basically sparked a number of anger in within the stewardesses. I imply, there had been incrementally worse and worse adverts that had been actually sexualizing them and trivializing their work, kind of encouraging passengers to deal with them as cocktail waitresses fairly than security professionals. And so adverts like this had been simply making the issue worse. And this advert truly received them out on the streets picketing together with the Nationwide Group for Ladies. They joined them, they usually went they usually picketed the advert company in New York that had provide you with this advert. They usually had indicators that stated, “Go fly your self,” which I believed was fairly intelligent. And that is one other element that I like. The proprietor of the advert company, his identify was Invoice Free, he got here on the market and in a very spectacularly misguided gesture began handing out roses to the stewardesses who’re on the market picketing, kind of making an attempt to placate them, and they also go house they usually make new indicators that say, “I’m Invoice. Fireplace me.”

You don’t mess with the flight attendants.

As we’re studying daily.

In addition they had hassle with their very own union. And I imagine they cut up off and shaped their very own as a result of they felt they weren’t being handled severely. I feel one of many sticking factors was getting a single room between flights.

Yeah, I feel it is a actually fascinating factor, simply by way of type of all union negotiations. The issues that the general public thinks are crucial for a job, wages or advantages or no matter, are sometimes not the issues that the employees are actually preventing for. So, the stewardesses had been represented, most of them belong to the Transport Staff Union, which was, largely subway staff, bus drivers, issues like that. A whole lot of previous males they usually type of handled the stewardesses like mascots of the labor motion. They didn’t actually go to bat for them when it got here time to barter with the airways for the issues that the stewardesses needed. And one of many issues that precipitate this kind of disaster in my e book when the stewardesses go away the Transport Staff they usually go to type their very own unbiased women-led unions was the difficulty of single rooms on layovers, single lodge rooms.

So, whenever you’re flying and you’ve got a layover, the airline places you up in a lodge. And stewardesses had all the time shared rooms—there have been all the time two to a room to save lots of the airline cash, however the pilots and the captains all the time received their very own rooms. Okay, superb. And when there have been solely ladies on the airplane, which was true for nearly all of the home airways till the early seventies, okay, they may cope with it. Then as soon as males began approaching board and, I feel 1971, there was normally just one man working as a flight attendant on the flight and he all the time received his personal room. So the entire crew would arrive, get off the airplane, they’d get on the bus or the automotive, arrive on the lodge, and these ladies who had been working within the cabin cabin for possibly 10 years must share a room with one another whereas they’d see the person who had simply come on board, simply began flying, saunter off to his lodge room, with the important thing to his personal solitary paradise.

So, so this was one of many points that basically sparked an enormous revolution among the many stewardesses, as a result of the Transport Staff, when it got here to negotiating a contract with American Airways, refused to go to bat for this. They only thought it was not essential. And so the stewardesses—it is a little spoiler alert—however they vote down the contract, two instances, which is one thing that was unprecedented, they rejected the contract that the Transport Staff had negotiated for them as a result of they stated, “We’ve been telling you, single rooms, we’d like single rooms. This can be a single rooms contract, that is it.” And there’s a number of excessive stakes drama truly going round one thing that doesn’t appear that essential to us as outsiders, but it surely was an enormous office rights challenge for them.

in the event you had a roommate who snored, then you definitely would keep up and also you’d be exhausted the following day and possibly spill espresso in your uniform.

And infrequently, not solely would they must share rooms with stewardesses that they knew, who had been on the identical flight, however typically it might be a stewardess from one other American Airways flight and the airline would simply make them bunk collectively. So, a complete stranger. A whole lot of them had been studying a e book within the bathtub to keep away from the sunshine conserving the roommate awake.

And would possibly seem to be a small level, but it surely’s a query of respect.

(Courtesy Nell McShane Wulfhart)

I’ve one other advert right here, “the boys with the Friday night time faces.” Initially, these don’t appear like boys to me, however that is the concept these essential, busy businessmen must be fussed over and coddled by the stewardesses.

Businessmen, single male enterprise vacationers, everybody was scrambling to get this market share. And that’s in all probability nonetheless true at the moment. However these are probably the most coveted passengers. This is among the causes that the airline adverts get type of racier and racier because the seventies go on as a result of they’re actually making an attempt to draw these males and persuade them to fly on their airline. And sure, a number of it are adverts like this the place it’s like, a stewardess is there to take care of your each want. She’ll intuit whether or not you wish to discuss. If you wish to discuss, she’ll discuss. You don’t wish to discuss, she’ll go away you alone, she’ll carry you the drink that you really want. You’re going to be like, utterly pampered by this younger, very conventionally engaging lady, like that’s it. I can even add that the growing sexualization of the stewardesses resulted in some extraordinarily weird uniforms that the airways put them into.

I recall sizzling pants.

Yeah, Southwest had orange sizzling pants and white lace-up go-go boots and I simply can not even think about the thought of serving sizzling espresso to a airplane filled with passengers carrying sizzling pants. However that’s simply one in all many. They get more and more bizarre and more and more tiny.

(Courtesy Nell McShane Wulfhart)

Oh, right here’s one other one, pampering the businessman passenger. It’s a weird advert, I’ve to say. Now, how does this all tie in with the rise of the feminist motion? it appeared like these had been two converging streams that ended up type of becoming a member of collectively at one level.

Yeah, I feel as is because the seventies went on and the feminist motion actually grew in energy, there was this distinction between what the stewardesses had been experiencing of their on a regular basis life, sexual liberation, consciousness elevating, being out with out make-up or with out bras, and lengthy hair and simply this unbelievable freedom that they had been beginning to really feel within the seventies. After which, after they went to work, they needed to placed on their girdles and placed on their, their tiny skirts, uniforms, and be talked all the way down to by passengers and by pilots and by supervisors, actually handled as women. “Women” was a phrase that the airways used on a regular basis to explain the stewardesses. They by no means confer with them as ladies, all of them confer with them as women. So, it was an growing distinction between like what was taking place exterior on the streets, and simply kind of time warp they entered each time they like stepped onto the airplane.

And you’ll even see behind me right here, it is a group referred to as Stewardesses for Ladies’s Rights, which was the group that protested the “fly me,” advert they usually had been a gaggle of stewardesses who shaped in 1972 in New York, and a gaggle of feminists who had been all working stewardesses from all totally different airways. And their purpose was to struggle for higher rights for themselves within the cabin. And Gloria Steinem was an enormous supporter.

Which makes excellent sense. Clearly, they made large modifications of their working circumstances, and did make enhancements. However now at the moment you examine issues that even appear slightly extra horrific, wherein flight attendants are being assaulted on flights by out-of-control passengers. And also you don’t go into that stuff within the e book, however I’m simply interested in your emotions about that. Have issues gotten even worse within the skies?

That’s actually good query, and I feel it goes again to what you talked about earlier, which is respect. There has simply been a scarcity of respect for flight attendants for the reason that sixties and seventies. For the reason that airways went in so arduous on this “Sky bunny” picture, and that simply hasn’t gone away. Folks nonetheless have that concept about flight attendants. They usually additionally don’t actually imagine that flight attendants are there in case of an emergency or as security professionals, , they actually assume they’re simply right here to carry me a tiny can of Coke or a biscuit or one thing. So, I feel what we’ve seen, particularly all through the pandemic, with folks rebelling in opposition to masks mandates or getting very drunk on the airplane and assaulting flight attendant—there was that incident with Frontier Air the place that drunk passenger was groping the feminine flight attendants, after which I feel punched the male flight attendant, after which they needed to duct tape him to his chair as a result of there was nothing else to do.

Which is possibly an excessive instance, however that kind of disrespect is going on on a regular basis for flight attendants and since they’re relied upon by the airways to not solely be servers of meals and security professionals, however now additionally type of safety guards. So, there’s a number of advantages to working as a flight attendant, however I feel lots of people have stop over the previous few years as a result of they only can’t deal with the disrespect from the passengers.