The first female ‘flight attendant’ was a 25-year-old registered nurse named Ellen Church. Hired by United Airlines in 1930. Other airlines followed suit, hiring nurses to serve as flight attendants, then called “stewardesses” or “air hostesses”, on most of their flights. The British airline Imperial Airways were the first to have “cabin boys” or “stewards” and in the US Stout Airways was the first to employ stewards in 1926 with Western Airlines (1928) and Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) (1929) the first US carriers to employ stewards to serve food.
According to wikipedia, in the United States the job of ‘flight attendant’ was one of only a few in the 1930s to permit women, which, coupled with the Great Depression, led to large numbers of applicants for the few positions available. Two thousand women applied for just 43 positions offered by Transcontinental and Western Airlines in December 1935. Female flight attendants rapidly replaced male ones, and by 1936, they had all but taken over the role and were selected not only for their knowledge but also for their characteristics. A 1936 New York Times article described the requirements:
The girls who qualify for hostesses must be petite; weight 100 to 118 pounds; height 5 feet to 5 feet 4 inches; age 20 to 26 years. Add to that the rigid physical examination each must undergo four times every year, and you are assured of the bloom that goes with perfect health.
Three decades later, a 1966 New York Times classified ad for stewardesses at Eastern Airlines listed these requirements:
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.
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