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May 16, 2023

On May 15, 1930: The First Airline Stewardess Goes on Duty

Things changed for airlines in the 1930s with a woman named Ellen Church. On May 15, 1930, Church became the first airline stewardess, now more commonly titled flight attendant, on a Boeing Air Transport flight from Oakland, California, to Chicago, Illinois with 13 stops, totaling 20 hours.

A registered nurse and licensed airplane pilot, Miss Church had approached Steve Simpson at Boeing Air Transport (later, United Air Lines) to inquire about being hired as a pilot. Simpson turned her down.

When her request was denied, she suggested that the airline put registered nurses aboard BAT’s airplanes to care for the passengers. She was hired to recruit and train seven additional women as stewardesses. Because of the cabin size and weight-carrying limitations of those early airliners, they were limited to a height of 5 feet, 4 inches (1.63 meters) and maximum weight of 115 pounds (52.2 kilograms). They were required to be registered nurses, but could not to be more than 25 years old. Their salary was $125.00 per month (approximately $2,271 in 2023 dollars).

Miss Church worked for BAT for about 18 months until she was injured in a car accident. After recovering, she then returned to her career in nursing.

The first eight airline stewardesses, from left to right, Jessie Carter, Cornelia Peterman, Ellen Church, Inez Keller, Alva Johnson, Margaret Arnott, Ellis Crawford and Harriet Fry. The airliner is a Boeing Model 80A. (National Air and Space Museum)

Church and her first seven Sky Girls.

Miss Ellen E. Church, R.N., welcomes a passenger to Boeing Air Transport’s Model 80, a three-engine biplane capable of carrying up to 12 passengers.

Ellen Church poses standing in doorway of United Airlines Douglas DC-3 wearing an original stewardess uniform, circa 1930.

Ellen Church on her first trip as a nurse/hostess for Boing Air Transport, 1930.

Ellen Church as the first stewardess.

Stewardess working on Boeing Air Transport flight.

Ellen Church, at right, with a United Air Lines stewardess, poses in front of a Douglas DC-3 Mainliner at Chicago on May 14, 1940.

Ellen Church was the Chief Nurse for the 52nd Troop Carrier Command  and oversaw the activities of the Medical Air Evacuation Squadrons. Seen here being decorated for her service.

Miss Ellen Evalyn Church


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