Friday, May 15, 2020
Ellen Church: An Industry Pioneer
Ninety years ago, Ellen Church, the first stewardess, took to the skies. Church was a trained nurse and pilot from Iowa. Initially, Church contacted Boeing Air Transport (a predecessor of United Airlines) to apply for a pilot position. After being told that the pilot position was not available to women, Church pushed to have trained nurses onboard aircraft to enhance safety procedures and address the public fear of flying. Convincing Boeing Air Transport to hire nurses, Church was responsible for recruiting and training the first group of interested nurses for the new stewardess role. The first flight staffed with a stewardess took off on May 15, 1930.
While Church only flew for Boeing Air Transport for eighteen months, she went on to use her flight and medical skills to aid in the evacuation of wounded soldiers from Africa and Italy during World War II. She also trained evacuation nurses in preparation for the D-Day invasion of France in 1944.
While the Flight Attendant position has evolved over the years, Ellen Church’s bravery and conviction made her a pioneer in the aviation industry. Through decades of struggles for recognition and equality, Flight Attendants are now recognized as trained safety professionals and aviation’s first responders.
Ellen Church’s determination lives on within the labor movement today. Flight Attendants are essential front-line workers, and we will continue to press for federally mandated science-based safety protections across the industry.
Paul Hartshorn, Jr.
APFA National Communications Chair