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In 1930 was given a 90 day trial period as the first flight stewardess.: Ellen Church ( 1904-1965)

Name:
Ellen Church ( 1904-1965)
Transportation Mode:
Aviation
Company/ Affiliation:
Boeing Air Transport
Era:
Post-1920s
Gender:
Female

Ellen Churchof Cresco, Iowa became the nation’s first flight stewardess. While working as a registered nurse in San Francisco, Church was also learning to fly and became a licensed pilot. When she learned the Boeing Air Transport (BAT, the predecessor to United Airlines) was planning to hire men as attendants for passengers, and after they refused to hire her as a pilot, she worked with the head of the San Francisco office and convinced BAT management to have a nurse on board for emergencies and to calm the public’s fear of flying. Within the next three years, most airlines followed BAT''s lead in hiring female stewardesses.

In 1930 she was given a 90-day trial period, was named chief stewardess and hired seven other nurses and helped design the uniforms. At first they wore standard nursing uniforms, including caps. Eventually the uniform evolved into a tailored suit and cape.

They had to be unmarried registered nurses, under 25(were required to retire by age 31), no more than 115 pounds and less than 5 foot four inches. The height and weight restrictions were because the cabins were so narrow and ceilings so low. They were also unheated. 

For $125/month, they handled luggage, checked tickets, served meals and offered tour guide-type commentary. They also fueled the plane, cleaned the plane, tightened the bolts holding the seats to the floor, and helped the pilot push the aircraft into the hangar at the end of the trip. 
While she opened up the field of aviation to women, Church’s own career as a stewardess only lasted 18 months. After an auto accident grounded her, she completed a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and resumed her nursing career. 

With the outbreak of WWII she joined the Army Nurse Corp and returned to the skies in 1942 as a captain and became one of the first flight nurses. She spent the war evacuating by air the wounded from North Africa, Sicily, France and Belgium. For this service she was awarded the prestigious Air Medal. She also received the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with seven bronze service stars, the American Theatre Campaign Medal, and the Victory Medal. 
In 1965 she received the Amelia Earhart Award for her contributions to aviation. United Airlines dedicated an addition to its stewardess-management training center in Chicago in recognition of her service to her country and aviation. 

A horse riding accident ended her life in 1965. The airport in her hometown of Cresco, Iowa, is called Ellen Church Field in her memory.

With great honor we recognize Ellen Church as a Hero of Industry and Technology. Accepting the award on behalf of the Howard County Historical Society is Connie Kepros.

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