First female stewardess took to the skies, 90 years ago

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Ellen Church, the first female flight attendant to ever fly, made history on May 15, 1930, when she embarked on a Boeing Air Transport, 20-hour flight from Oakland to Chicago.

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.

But Church approached Steve Simpson, manager of San Francisco’s Boeing Air Transport office, with the then-radical idea of putting female nurses on airliners.

Church had wanted to be a pilot, but realized she had no chance for that at the time. Instead, she convinced Simpson and Boeing Air Transport — later to become United Airlines — the presence of female employees might help relieve the public’s fear of flying.

Church developed the job description and training program for the first class of eight stewardesses, called the "original eight."

Church’s first flight as a female stewardess included 13 stops for 14 passengers. She served only eighteen months when an automobile accident grounded her.

After her recovery she returned to nursing, and her stint as a stewardess was over. However, her idea transformed the airline industry. A horse riding accident ended her life in 1965.

Church’s hometown airport in Cresco, Iowa, is named Ellen Church Field in her honor.