Celebrating 75 Years!

Much of my birthday weekend I was able to “putter” on a project that I’ve been trying to complete for over a year. I started with only eighteen, 8″ walk-in-the-woods blocks I pieced several years ago. Not enough for a quilt really, so I decided to slice them diagonally in half and pair each with a bold floral–usually a Phillip Jacob design. Started the trial of this idea, but found myself distracted and unsure, so I put the sliced blocks and the floral fabrics away.

Returned to it this week with renewed enthusiasm. Friday and Saturday I played, and pinned, and sewed. Quite pleased with the bold, busy arrangement. Below is a photo of a portion of it on the design wall. Will sew it together and then seek border inspiration to transform the square design into a rectangle. It’s been great fun–love those audacious fabrics. The whole arrangement becomes rather like an “I Spy” quilt, meaning that upon close inspection the viewer will find recognizable objects and/or unique juxtapositions to explore.

Early Saturday morning we headed out to bring home a load of firewood since winter is coming and we have lost the help of our previously dependable woodcutter who delivered the wood and even helped stack it. Our large woodshed is not bare, but we really need to find a reliable source of quality firewood. By 9:00 we had loaded up our small truck, but that source is not one we can rely on! Does anyone in the area know of a reliable source of good firewood?

“Memory is like a child walking along a seashore, you never know what treasures the child will pick up.” anon

Thank you to friends who sent me birthday wishes and memories of good times together! Looking at photographs and working on my memoir usually jogs my own remembrances from the past.

As many others who are spending time “sheltering at home”, I’ve been retrieving things from storage. Sometimes I encounter precious objects like this vintage print of a painting by the Dutch artist Nicolaas van der Waay (1855–1936). I’d like to share the story of how this delightful image came to live with me for the last forty-two years.

In the late 1970s, my standard poodle Zelda and I lived in the spacious third floor apartment of a large house–almost a mansion–in Kansas City, MO. The other occupants were my friends Jim and Wayne, a homosexual couple, and Jim’s parents. All of us had our own spaces and got along well. Soon after I moved there, I discovered this painting in an attic storage area of my apartment, and was allowed to borrow it. I was quite intrigued and made up various stories about the young women and their relationships with each other. I hung it in a prominent place in my living room and often studied the procession.

I’m still intrigued by the intimate glances and the careful body language of the young women who seemed very interested in each other. When I bought my first house, an 1888 Victorian house in downtown Kansas City, I was prepared to leave this favorite painting behind when I moved. But as I was leaving, Jim and Wayne presented me with it wrapped in brown paper as a house-warming gift!

The painting of these young women has been displayed on my walls for most years since then. Three years ago I put it away in favor of another print and stored it in a dubious spot. I knew better. Recently I discovered the paper had large active mold showing in the light areas! I’ve cleaned it up and replaced the backing paper. This week I’ve returned it to the center of the house and will watch over the procession more carefully now. Today I study the subtle use of light and the shadings of color that create the crisp photographic effects. Both intrigue me.

Postscript:
Artist Nicolaas van der Waay (1855–1936) lived in Amsterdam and did a series of paintings depicting the lives of girls from the Amsterdam Orphanage. ” Seen above, “Orphan Girls Going to Church” is one of the most famous of this series. No current reproductions seem to be available. For more information about the artist:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicolaas_van_der_Waay#/media/File:Kerkgang_weesmeisjes.jpg

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Catfish, the Cat Born with Determination….

When August began, Jeanne and I had four companion animals. Our two dogs, Zora and Shyla, are both over twelve. Our cat, Scout, is seventeen with various health issues. Catfish was the youngest critter at eight. The last Tuesday in July he was lethargic and seemed not interested in eating and drinking. In the past, we have had cats bitten by a snake who showed similar symptoms and they recovered in a few days. On Thursday we were quite concerned and made an appointment at our vet for early Friday. Catfish died Saturday night, August 1, from “bobcat fever”! We buried him in a special part of our front garden on Monday morning.

Covid has brought many losses to many people. We all cope with our grief in a variety of ways. Collecting these photos, and writing about Catfish and his spot in our family has helped me accept his death. This montage is also for the women who knew Catfish, his antics and personality, from afar.

Living with losses, small losses and large losses, is a reality for each of us. Friends drift away, politics pushes people apart, disabilities create isolation. Hopefully other friends remain and new interests emerge. We humans are gregarious creatures seeking compatible community. This pandemic brings losses, challenges, and possibly new discoveries for each of us.

Catfish brought his strong personality to us after
we lost two favorite cats in 2011. I believe he had a good cat-life with us. We miss him, and his companion, Scout, seems lonesome too. I’ll write more about “bobcat fever” later.

In 2011 Jeanne and I lived with four dogs and three cats–all rescued or abandoned animals–some dumped in our “haller”. Late that year, Summer disappeared and Striper died as a result of a predator–probably coyotes. You can see Summer and Striper pictured sleeping together below left. Soon we decided to look for a kitten to be a companion to Scout who had been raised by Summer. Striper had grown up alongside Scout and all three cats would groom each other and sleep together at times.

We found a shelter with a feral adult female cat who had recently given birth to kittens. We visited with the kittens and chose the tiny gray tabby with white paws who had not opened his eyes yet. We waited while he grew. When he did join our household he needed to be fed by hand for awhile. Scout groomed him and played with him.

We had a difficult time choosing names–one we tried at first was Ajax. That name did not stick–we kept deliberating, finally settling on Catfish. This seemed a unique name for this determined feline. I’ve collected a variety of photos to let you see his personality for yourself.

Because Catfish was so young and small, we were concerned about predators scooping him up, so we closed the cat door and the dog door at night to keep him inside. He howled, he climbed screens, he was impossible. To get some sleep, we tried keeping both him and Scout in our second building at night. Scout cooperated, but Catfish did not. Eventually he found a way to push out one of the window screens and escape. We gave up. We could not protect him in this manner. Catfish was determined to be outside at night–perhaps this relates to his mother being feral.

The last night we had with Catfish at home, he crawled in bed with me for much of the night. It was his last gift to me. He felt lousy, but he wanted to be with me. When we hustled him off to the vet Friday morning, I felt pretty sure he’d recover and I’d see him again. But the infection caused by “bobcat fever” is virulent.

Bobcat fever’s scientific name is cytauxzoonosis. It’s an infectious disease caused by a protozoan parasite called Cytauxzoon felis. Bobcats are the natural hosts of C felis; it’s then transmitted to domestic cats through tick bites, especially from lone star ticks. We have lots of lone star ticks here. “Bobcat fever” does not affect dogs or humans.

Symptoms seen in your cat include lethargy, lack of appetite, and high fever.
Another prominent symptom is the third eyelid appears and partially covers both eyes. Early detection and swift action are key to surviving “bobcat fever”. You can learn more by following this link: http://www.ozarkcountytimes.com/news-local-news/early-detection-and-treatment-are-key-cats-here-survive-bobcat-fever-0

“It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch,” these words are inscribed on an 18th century New England headstone. I assume the sentiment was meant to comfort. I do find comfort in knowing we loved our feline companion despite the fact that his loss has been a “fearful thing”. Death will touch us all. Fear of loss cannot keep us from loving. We have today. Tomorrow the sun rises and probably so will we. Hope keeps us present and hope keeps us appreciating the cycles of living. Catfish lives on in our memories, and now in these words and photos taken over the eight years of his life.

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Out to Pasture….

TWA flight hostess uniforms 1955-1960 designed by Oleg Cassini

At dawn, as a girl, I woke to the sound of the early morning flights from the nearby Miami airport roaring overhead. It soon became a background noise. In the school year 1951-1952, I started first grade at Miami Springs Elementary. As a child I was unaware of the women struggling to earn a living wage as flight attendants. I was unaware of those women and the unions they built.

My own right to work until retirement was secured by their decades-long efforts. Many women were denied job security for a job well-done, and were forced to “retire” at 32 or 35. Many did not have the opportunity to retire with benefits. I salute their persistent efforts to be treated with respect as valuable employees. Remember, the risk of death while working as a flight attendant in the earlier years was real. “In the 1950s and 1960s US airlines experienced at least six crashes each year – most of which lead to the deaths of all on board. This shocking statistic began dropping dramatically from the late 1970s, and such crashes are very rare now.”1

I feel a strong affinity to these determined women since I also sought to eliminate sex discrimination when I worked for TWA from 1969 to 1985. I continue to benefit from their concerted efforts. Today I’m writing about their challenges in the 1950s and about the shift at TWA to new uniforms after eleven years in the “cut-out” style of uniform.

TWA Hostess uniforms 1944-1960

One stewardess involved in union organizing in the 1940s observed, “The airline hires us young, works us hard, and then wants us gone.” This strategy intensified in the 1950s although one accomplishment by flight attendants in 1952 is worthy of note.

1951
Flight attendants were facing an on-the-job “speedup” in 1951! The introduction of the Super-G Constellation, or Model 1049, doubled their workload. “This stretched variant of the earlier Constellation boasted unheard-of refinements, such as air conditioning, reclining seats, and extra lavatories. It was a plane ahead of its time, at least twice as fuel efficient as the industry’s first jets and as efficient as many of today’s modern aircraft.2

1955-60 TWA hostess uniforms designed by Oleg Cassini


The flight attendants working on the faster aircraft
were facing shorter flying times and more passengers for the same scheduled in-flight services (and the same low pay). These working women were the first to experience jetlag and to describe the effects! Not surprisingly their experiences of flight-related fatigue were not taken seriously.

How many steps did a working flight attendant take on a single flight? On a routine flight from Chicago to Miami in 1948, the flight attendant walked an exhausting eight miles as measured by the pedometer she wore that day. The airlines did not introduce serving carts until the late 1950s. Imagine this scenario: one to three hostesses using the cramped galley “as a base for preparing, serving, and clearing multi-course meals and drinks for planeloads approaching one hundred passengers.” 3

1952
Finally, in 1952 the Civil Air Administration officially required the presence of flight attendants on commercial aircraft where their “duties would include but are not necessarily limited to cabin-safety-related responsibilities.”4 The efforts to obtain certification as trained safety professionals on board commercial aircraft has been denied (in part due to the opposition of the pilots union) to flight attendants for the last seventy-five years.5

1955-1960 TWA hostess photos and ads

1953
From the earliest years, if a flight attendants married, she was dismissed or, if she was lucky, she might be offered a ground position. Yet, some women enjoyed the airborne work, enjoyed supporting themselves and reveled in the chance to travel on their own. Respected historian Kathleen M. Barry described the situation:

“As the flight attendant workforce had steadily expanded since the 1930s, so had the numbers of women who had stayed in the job for several years, even while the average tenure remained at two or three years. Some veterans took the few routes of mobility available to female flight attendants, becoming stewardess supervisors or trainers, but most continued to serve passengers. Airlines minimized veteran male and female flight attendants’ claims to economic rewards for time served by capping salary increases at eight to ten years and by not offering pension plans or other long-term benefits. But veteran stewardesses, even if relatively economical as long-term workers, still left airlines with the ‘problem’ of employing maturing women in what was supposed to be a temporary sojourn between school and marriage.

American Airlines pioneered the ‘solution’ by declaring that as of December 1953, it would ground stewardesses upon their thirty-second birthday. American’s official rational for the new policy was ‘based on the established qualifications for Stewardesses, which are attractive appearance, pleasant dispositions, even temperament, neatness, unmarried status, and the ability and desire to meet and serve passengers. Basic among the qualifications is an attractive appearance. Such an appearance ordinarily is found to a higher degree in a younger woman. Therefore the establishment of an age limit will best effectuate and preserve the concept of Stewardess service as it is understood by this Company.’6

American imposed the age ceiling as a precondition of employment. New stewardesses signed a pledge to resign ‘voluntarily’ at thirty-two.”7

Ten TWA hostesses circa 1955. Each is pictures with her twin sister!

Stewardesses Not Entitled to Job Security
Eliminating sex discrimination in employment practices was one of the efforts the flight attendant unions attempted since first organizing in the late 1940s. Using the tools of collective bargaining and of the grievance procedures brought limited success. In this drastic situation in 1953 “the Air Line Stewardesses and Stewards Association (ALSSA) forced a limited compromise. ALSSA managed to restrict the age limit to new hires. The union immediately saved the jobs of sixty-four American stewardesses then already thirty-two or older and set a precedent of so-called ‘grandmother rights’. ‘Grandmother rights’ not only protected veteran stewardesses jobs at American and other carriers. They ensured that a few more mature stewardesses would remain in the job as living evidence of how arbitrary the age ceilings were….”8

At TWA about 10% of the women benefited form this “grandmother” exemption because they were hired before this policy went into effect! But, Barry points out that “the rare job security ‘grandmothered’ stewardesses enjoyed came at the cost of being the unwelcome exception to airlines’ increasingly stringent demands for youthfulness.” With these policies, I believe the airlines also sought compliant employees unwilling to question unfair working conditions. As the astute union woman in the 1940s said, “The airline hires us young, works us hard, and then wants us gone.”

Despite years of activism and lawsuits it was not until the mid 1960s that the flight attendants were successful in forcing the airlines to eliminate the age and marriage restrictions as conditions of employment. I’ll write more about that struggle and the win at a later date.

TWA hostess uniforms designed by Oleg Cassini 1955-60

1955
Howard Hughes, with his Hollywood connections, was still at the helm of TWA in the mid 1950s when Hollywood designer Oleg Cassini was selected to design the new TWA hostess uniforms. Cassini had worked as a designer first for Paramount Pictures and later (1942) for Twentieth Century Fox. His assignment to replace the unique “cutout-design” uniform that had symbolized TWA for a record eleven years was a challenge.

Cassini designed a variation on that cut-out design. The collarless jacket of the fitted suit emphasized the red TWA lettering on the right shoulder. The hip length jacket with five covered buttons was long-sleeved in both the summer and winter uniforms. The winter uniforms were a medium brown wool. The more appealing summer version in green lightweight wool featured the same collarless jacket. The straight-fitting skirt with a rear pleat fell below the knees.

For decades wool has been used extensively in year-round suits for women and for men because wool resists abrasion, drapes well and wrinkles little. Both winter and summer uniforms were worn with a white cotton blous-slip. Either brown pumps or brown and white spectator pumps as well as white gloves completed the uniform.

1956 TWA flight hhstess graduates

Details: The red embroidered TWA letters appeared on the right front of the blouse too. The blouse had front button fastenings. The white blouse-slip was cotton on the blouse section and nylon on the lower slip section. The sturdy brown or green wool hat featured a left upsweep to the crown which was accented with a three color cockade, that is, an ornamental knot of ribbons. The hostess half wing was pinned to the center of the ribbon cockade. The uniform was manufactured by Briny Marlin and the hat made by Mae Hanauer.

Most sources indicate that the colors of these uniforms were coordinated with the cabin interiors of TWA’s Lockheed Constellation for the innovative trans-Atlantic service at the height of the propliner era. See for yourself. Return to the the third group of photos (above) with the interior view of the Super-G Constellation. These uniforms were worn by the TWA hostesses until 1960. Years later, in 1963, Oleg Cassini became First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy’s official designer.

`1955-1960 TWA hostess uniforms

Stereotypes of the stewardess of earlier decades continue to flourish. Occasionally I see a tribute as appreciative as this: “Stewardesses were globe-trotting modern women who always looked professional, capable, and enthused.”10

In many ways wearing a uniform is a costume for a role devised by an employer. Wearing a classic fitted suit with hat and now, for the first time, white gloves, is rather like a stage appearance. Both inside the airport terminal and then on the airplane itself these women were trained safety professionals, capable of evacuating an aircraft in 90 seconds and enthusiastic about a career in aviation. The uniform added to their dignity. The women who worked as flight attendants, whether called hostess or stewardess, had carved out a niche in aviation for women in a time when women had limited career choices. Yet, nostalgia, the sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, dominates most descriptions of aviation’s yesteryear–especially commentary about the stewardess.

Postscript
Oleg Cassini designer of TWA hostess uniforms 1955

Notes
1 https://www.express.co.uk/travel/articles/1055852/flights-united-airlines-cabin-crew-lax-air-hostess-turbulence
2 from https://www.lockheedmartin.com/en-us/news/features/history/constellation.html
3 Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants, Kathleen M. Barry, p. 45 https://books.google.com/books/about/Femininity_in_Flight.html?id=fGVy_CsvIwgC
4 https://www.afacwa.org/milestones
5 Femininity in Flight, p.73
6 Femininity in Flight, p.112
7 Femininity in Flight, p.124
8 Femininity in Flight, p.113
9 https://www.crfashionbook.com/fashion/g32227361/flight-attendant-fashion-dior-yves-saint-laurent/?slide=2
10 https://www.southernliving.com/fashion-beauty/vintage-flight-attendant-uniform

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Tennessee Waltz….Dancing with My Darling

“I was dancing with my darling to the Tennessee Waltz
When an old friend I happened to see
Introduced her to my loved one and while they were dancing
My friend stole my sweetheart from me.”

a popular song in 1950 sung by Patti Page

Popular culture is a powerful force, often an unseen force, in the lives of both children and adults. My parents paid to send me to kindergarten because they believed five years old was a good time to start my formal education. It seems that part of that education was indoctrination into heterosexual culture. You can listen to the 1950 version of the Tennessee Waltz sung by Patti Page here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-XCvfy6Huyc

“The Tennessee Waltz” was an immensely popular song at the time. At one of the kindergarten programs regularly presented for the parents, the two women who owned and operated the school choose to play the song in the background and have three students act the parts. Apparently they hired a photographer to record the event or these photos would not exist.

Perhaps I was chosen to be the girl in the group because the women knew my mother would make me a beautiful dress for the occasion. As you can see, even then I was tall for my age. Throughout my girlhood, I remember pulling out my photo book to look at this photo with pleasure.

Mother helped me to remember the details. The ribbon in my hair reached to the floor. The heart shaped locket inscribed “Paula” was a baby gift from mother’s family. I wore ballet slippers. The dress was mother’s dream of a dress for her little girl. It was cream color and all the rows of glitter on the skirt were worthy of a Hollywood fantasy. She designed it and sewed it for me. Obviously this was a important event for Marie too.

The socialization of girls into adopting “appropriate” sex-role behaviors may be one measure of successful mothering. Considering later conversations, I believe my mother held this view–it was her job to raise pretty and compliant girls. At the same time, I do believe, she wanted the “best” for me, my sisters and my brother.

Family plays a crucial and predominant role in socialization in the early childhood years. In “middle childhood”, meaning the years between the time when children enter school and the time they reach adolescence, “teachers, peers, coaches, and others outside the family have more contact with the child than in early childhood, and they exercise varying degrees of influence.”1

Sex-roles are taught at home and everywhere else! My kindergarten experience was infused with clear messages about the adult world’s expectations of me as a girl. Both positive reinforcement, like compliments and praise, as well as negative reinforcement including ridicule, criticism and punishment are common methods to ensure compliance. Each of these behavior modification tools remain effective in 2020.

My reason for talking about these realities, using examples from my own life, is to identify the undesirable consequences of restricting some behaviors and encouraging other behaviors based on a child’s sex. Doll, trains, stuffed toys, chemistry sets, camping gear are all useful toys and learning tools that do not need to be divided into pink and blue categories. Rational thought, empathy, and caring are all human characteristics.

Kindergarten was my first step into socialization beyond my family. Girls and boys are biologically different in a few specific ways. But all the efforts to make sure girls learn to be feminine (as defined by the culture) and boys learn to become masculine (as defined by the culture) are a social construction. Femininity and masculinity are sexist notions which limit the interests and behaviors of children into narrow pathways.

In December 2017 the Pew Research Center released a report on Social & Demographic Trends in this area.

The public has very different views about what society values most in men and what it values in women. While many say that society values honesty, morality and professional success in men, the top qualities for women are physical attractiveness and being nurturing and empathetic.

When it comes to what society values most in women, traits associated with one’s physical appearance are among the most often mentioned: 35% volunteered something having to do with physical attractiveness or beauty. Three-in-ten say that society values being nurturing and empathetic most in women, including 11% who specifically mention being a parent or caregiver and 6% who mention traits like kindness or being helpful. By contrast, significantly smaller shares of Americans say that society values physical attractiveness or being nurturing or empathetic most for men (11% each).

In recent years, research looking at the messages boys and men get from society about what it means to “be a man” has received increased attention. The survey asked men how much pressure they think men in general face to do each of the following: be emotionally strong, be interested in sports, be willing to throw a punch if provoked, join in when other men are talking about women in a sexual way, and have many sexual partners.

Millennial men are far more likely than older men to say men face pressure to be willing to throw a punch, to join in when other men are talking about women in a sexual way and to have many sexual partners.”2

Popular culture is a powerful force both inside the family and outside the family. I was raised to be pretty and smart–in that order. I was a girl. If one child was to go to college, my dad believed it should be his son. This was seen as a normal attitude. My mother suggested that they take it one step at a time–not confronting him directly. As a girl child, my expectations were to be carefully shaped into helpmate material, preferably an attractive helpmate.

Our play clothes as children were sturdy and easy to wear-mostly short and shirts year round. Once school began I was dressed in dresses, skirts and blouses. My brother wore trousers and shirts. As a girl I was learning to dress “like a girl”. I was learning to concern myself with other people’s (both children and adults) opinion of me and of my appearance. As a tall girl I had already broken an important expectation that girls not be taller than boys. I soon realized that as a tall girl I would always be noticed. I would not “blend in” easily. This fact made be even more aware, at an early age, of what I wore and how I wore it. My family members were all tall–my parents encouraged each of us to not slouch–to stand up straight.

Idealized images of children, teens, women, men, families, couples, houses and more entered my consciousness when I was still a child–first from newspapers, television, movies, magazines and billboards.

My favorite comic strip from the Sunday newspaper was Brenda Starr, Reporter. I was drawn to her bold confidence, her adventures, and to her wide-ranging and stylish wardrobe. Television was a new phenomena in the 1950s and our family spent many hours watching–from situation comedies to sporting events and variety shows.

Since all television is educational television, I was receiving an advanced education in expectations about the role of women. Kathleen M. Barry informed us, “When a Miss America first received her crown on television in 1954, capturing half the viewing audience, the event became an all-in-one lesson for girls in the requirements of femininity. It was also an occasion for adults to take pride in the best of American womanhood in the making.”3 Our family often watched this pageant together and probably saw that 1954 event. In the early 1960s the pageants were the highest-rated programs on American television! Here is a one minute newsreel of the 1953 Miss America Pageant. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JbNbHnQ9v_Y

As a child and as a girl I was attracted to these idealized, carefully orchestrated visions of women in admired settings. As the oldest girl in a large family, I’d already encountered some of the responsibilities of caring for others. Did the girl who dressed for Halloween as Little Red Riding Hood, complete with red cape and red hood, have what it takes to escape the wolf’s threats and to rescue herself and her grandmother? Did these idealized women know how to help me do that? Perhaps embracing femininity was a survival skill I needed as a girl.

Notes

1 Eleanor E. Maccoby Chapter 5: Middle Childhood In The Context Of The Family https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK216771/

2 from Pew Research Center: Social & Demographic Trends
https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/12/05/americans-see-different-expectations-for-men-and-women/

3 Kathleen m. Barry, Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants p. 50 https://eh.net/book_reviews/femininity-in-flight-a-history-of-flight-attendants/

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Multiple Challenges

How my parents managed to create a nurturing and stable environment for us is a mystery to me. Both Marie and Paul were hard workers and took their parenting responsibilities seriously. It helped that they liked each other and worked together. Neither had experienced ideal parenting as children. Both seemed committed to creating family life that benefited each family member.

“Time is the miracle solution for most dilemmas of parenthood. Taken in minutes or hours, the time you spend with your kids gives you the opportunity to provide your kids all their essential needs — and much more.”1 This contemporary opinion suggests that all the time Marie and Paul spent with each of us was an enormous gift. I’m quick to add that all the time we kids had to spend, as we wished, in the safe outdoor environment of our neighborhood was another luxury we took for granted at the time. In addition to our parents, our Aunt Rosemary brought her own sense of humor and engaging mind to the family mix.

We, Neilsons, were an active family. We went to the beach occasionally, we picked strawberries, sometimes visited the zoo, explored the Tamiami Trail area of the Everglades where we saw Seminole Indians in their beautiful patchwork clothes and learned about their elevated living quarters called chickees. Later we took extended family camping trips. My dad had a single-lens reflex camera (SLR) which he used to take slide photos of our family adventures. Once in awhile we’d plan a slide show to review our activities. This “movie night” was accompanied by a huge bowl of hot buttered popcorn to share.

Creating a new life together

I’ve included all these candid photos of real 1949 and 1950s life for a white family in a sunny southern town because there is much misinformation about that time period. All the details seen in the backgrounds of the photos add detailed visuals when carefully studied. These two young adults, Paul and Marie, were adapting to life together, living in a new house, and caring for two infants. Our family of four soon became six! As a result, Dad then planned to build an addition to the house.

Marie had four pregnancies within five years. Only after her death did I learn that she had a miscarriage between the birth of Karl, born in September 1947 and Marsha, born in October 1950. This miscarriage is one of many things “that were not discussed” in our household. Decades later my father told my youngest sister that mother had some kind of “breakdown” after her third child, Marsha, was born. He said she went and stayed with women friends and played bridge for a full week. This too was a revelation to me.

Back story: at Marsha’s birth in 1950, Marie had approached her male doctor about obtaining a tubal ligation to prevent further pregnancies. That doctor, in a condescending and dismissive manner common in the 1950s, refused her request. One year later she found herself expecting another child. After our sister Lea was born in June 1952, Marie had the major responsibility for four children under the age of seven. After that birth she did have a tubal ligation which would prevent any further pregnancies–another piece of information unknown to me until recently.

Prior to that action, the concern about additional births must have been on their minds. Given the limited birth control options of the time period, I assume this concern about more births also affected their sexual intimacy which could easily affect other parts of their relationship.

Paul was a helpful parent, but was absent for most of the waking hours. It’s not surprising that I became “mother’s little helper”. Lea became known as Baby Lea by everyone in the neighborhood, until Mother finally said, “no, this has to stop–she can’t be Baby Lea all her life”. Perhaps she was thinking of her Aunt Anne who was known as Duckie all of her life. It took all of us awhile to change our habit of using Lea’s nickname.

When mother had been pregnant with me in 1944, her sexist Army doctor had decided mother’s breasts were too small for her to consider nursing her child. Denigration of breastfeeding was not unusual. “Breastfeeding in the Western world declined significantly from the late 1800s to the 1960s. By the 1950s, the predominant attitude to breastfeeding was that it was something practiced by the uneducated and those of lower classes. The practice was considered old-fashioned and “a little disgusting” for those who could not afford infant formula and was discouraged by medical practitioners and media of the time.”2

Marie had little time to recover from pregnancy, the birthing, and adjusting to life with a new baby, before she was again “with child”! In addition to coping with all the physical and emotional challenges, every week she had a hundred or so bottles to sterilize, and hundreds of diapers to wash and hang out to dry. This was Marie’s daily reality for about ten years.

Telling this story is a tribute to my mother. Her fortitude and endurance amaze me. Her personal situation was a direct result of the social, medical and legal attitudes of her time, that is, the political climate women inhabit in this male-dominated society.

My life story is rooted in my mother’s life story and to a lesser extent my father’s life story. As the oldest daughter of a large family, I believe I had a taste of what the multiple responsibilities of a mother would include. Few of my life choices have sent me in that direction.

A Wedding to Plan!
Aunt Rosemary, Paul’s youngest sister, was a vital part of our Neilson “clan”. She was the one relative involved continually with us for many years, as you can see in those photos of Marie and Rosemary hosing down the two toddlers on a hot Miami day. She spent holidays and fun times with us. Later I would spend weekends with her at her new house–fun for me and one less child at home. Paul seemed glad to have his youngest sister nearby and included in our family life. Both were transplants to the Miami area, and shared memories and experiences from their youth in Upstate New York. Both were glad to have escaped the long, cold winters!

In the mid 1950s Rosemary married Darryl Harrison in a simple wedding with the reception held at our house in Miami Springs. Her wedding was a family affair, not a catered event. Mother used her silver forks and bone china plates (from Duckie) carefully arranged on crisp white linens to honor the couple and their guests. The delicate green ferns surrounding the cake grew in our yard. Step back in time….


Postscript

Notes
1 from Dr. Rotbart at https://www.childrenscolorado.org/conditions-and-advice/parenting/parenting-articles/what-children-need/
2 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_and_culture_of_breastfeeding

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Miami Springs: The Edge of the Everglades


Marie had grown up on “the Beach”, but it was too expensive for a young couple to buy a home on that island for their growing family. And the GI bill, which offered mortgage assistance, only applied to new housing. Marie’s high school friends, her church and her family (Aunt Duckie) were on Miami Beach. Dad had finished night school and had been hired as a land surveyor for the City of Miami Beach. Neither one wanted to leave the area. To buy a home of their own, they would have to leave.

While Paul and Marie were considering their options they celebrated their daughter’s first birthday on Miami Beach with friends and relatives. Generally Dad was the photographer so we’ll see fewer photos of him. Both my parents were anxious to take pictures of our family life together–that accounts for all these photos from 74 years ago.

Commuting in 1947 was not commonplace, but it probably seemed the solution to the situation. Miami Springs was ten miles away, about a 30-40 minute drive with no easy, direct route. It was on the western edge of the developed area. Beyond was the untamed Everglades, also known as “the River of Grass”. After 1945, the Miami Beach and Miami area experienced a post-war sprawl when “hundreds of thousands of GIs came to Miami to start a new life”.1

I’ve found a variety of ads by Miami Springs builders directed at veterans. Here is one: “Selling for $11,950, veterans require a down payment of $730 which includes closing costs. Monthly carrying charges come to approximately $75. Set on a minimum size lot measuring 75 by 125 feet.” Other builders emphasize hurricane-proof buildings. Another builder promised “atomic bomb protection” and no down payment for veterans. It seems like it might have been a “buyer beware” market for these young newlyweds! [Families in the United States had an average (median) income of $3,000 in 1947.]

In choosing Miami Springs as their new home, Paul and Marie either “did their homework” or made a lucky choice. In Miami Springs, “deed restrictions were rigid, and strict building and zoning guidelines called for masonry construction, tile roofs, proper set-backs and landscaping.”2

About Miami Springs in the 1940s
Miami Springs was a planned community built with a Circle Park surrounded by few small businesses. Westward Drive, a divided parkway, moved west to the residential sections. Famed aviator Glenn Curtiss and his partner James Bright had developed the area in the mid 1920s during the “Florida land boom”. They developed Hialeah, which was much larger and Country Club Estates where Curtiss built his own mansion. Country Club Estates was adjacent to the airport and later was renamed Miami Springs. The tiny community was a mere three square miles but supplied water for the entire metropolitan Miami area until the mid-1990s.

One historian described the post war growth. “In 1930 the name of Country Club Estates was changed to the town of Miami Springs in recognition of the natural spring of pure water that was located beneath the town. Miami Springs continued as a small, mostly residential community until after WWII. As the airline industry at the 36th Street Airport [now Miami International Airport] began to expand, many airline employees were transferred to the area and Miami Springs became a convenient location for them to live. A new “building boom” continued for many years. The airline industry was a major factor in the economic growth of the town.”

By early 1947 Marie was pregnant with their second child. The family of four would need that new home soon. When Marie and Paul decided to move to 336 Linwood Drive in Miami Springs there were few houses on that block. Marie would be stranded there all day with no neighbors and no transportation. I believe they had a phone since the house was built with a small nook in the hall by the bedrooms to hold the black rotary dial phone. This isolation would be an adjustment for her. The radio would be her companion.

Karl was born September 7th 1947 in the midst of a flood caused by Hurricane Vi–one of five storms that year! With this flooding did my parents wonder about their choice to live on the edge of the Everglades? Paul built a catwalk-like ramp to bring Marie and Karl into the house when they were released from the hospital after his birth. See above in the center photo with Paula on that ramp. Below are more photos of the Circle park, city hall and businesses during that ’47 flood. Karl was a happy baby and for the most part, I liked being a “big sister”.

Marie and Paul bought a two bedroom, one bath, stuccoed masonry house with a durable tile roof. Stucco is very affordable and is virtually maintenance-free. The compact living room served as an all-purpose family room. Both bedrooms were small, the dining room was actually a wide hall leading to the two back doors. The kitchen we used for the next twenty-five years was more like a galley. One tiny window was inadequate to keep the kitchen cool when it was hot–which was most of the time. No central heat or air conditioning. In one corner of the living room was a small gas ceramic heater. Later Dad built a mantel around the hearth-like heater so we could hang our Christmas stockings. When we did have cold nights, we slept under electric blankets.

With mild weather year round, all of us spent time outside in a variety of activities including hanging our daily loads of laundry to dry on the large clothesline–not one of my favorite chores. Later, as the family grew, my parents chose to build a large addition rather that leave our accustomed neighborhood. I’d guess the house was 800 to 1,000 square feet with no garage and a tiny hard-to-get-to attic. For many years we thrived in that house.

Norma and Sig Drury bought the house next door. Norma and Sig were high school friends of Marie and had been the attendants at Marie and Paul’s wedding in 1945. Their house was almost exactly like the basic house that my parents bought. They did not have children for the first few years. We were quite neighborly with them. The first dog I ever knew well was their dog Spicy, a gentle black and white mixed bred dog. They planted orange trees and grapefruit trees in their backyard. Once established, we enjoyed picking our own fresh fruit when they had extra.

Sometimes on a weekend we would drive over to Miami Beach to visit Duckie. At times I would spend days with her. We’d visit her Cabana club for my swimming lessons and ice cream. Here’s a description about the Cabana club of the late 1940s as mentioned in the ad below, “Patrons went to the bathing casino [cabana] to enjoy a day in the surf or to swim in the pool. Upon entering, guests would proceed to the lobby desk and rent a locker, wool bathing suit and a towel.”4 Of course I had my own bathing suit. I have vague memories of jumping into the pool as a toddler. Duckie doted on me as a child and I enjoyed her company.

Both my parents had a strong can-do attitude. Marie was a creative sewer and a resourceful homemaker as well as a constant reader. Paul gardened and taught himself carpentry and building. As soon as we were old enough we were playing games and sports–from kickball to ping-pong and basketball with him. Early on he planted a gardenia shrub since Marie loved that flower. Later he planted a key lime tree which thrived in our climate. We enjoyed those key limes almost year round–real key limes are yellow when ripe–not green. For special occasions, Mother would make us key lime pie–still one of my favorites.

Mother’s Aunt Duckie acted the proud grandmother with me and arranged this series of portraits. Mother designed and sewed each of the dresses–some were organdy, most were cotton. The one on the far right was light blue linen with white eyelet trim. Both Duckie and Marie enjoyed dressing me in the idealized image of a little girl–my training started early. I can see the contrast when compared to the earlier candid photos or my school photos. The staged portraits are a tiny slice from real life. For one thing–I’ve never had curly hair. Illusions….

Yet, it is all part of the story to be told.

Postscripts
One:

Two:
The Everglades, a unique treasure located in South Florida, is the largest remaining subtropical wilderness in the United States. It consists of 1.5 million acres of saw grass marshes, mangrove forests, and hardwood hammocks dominated by wetlands. It is home to endangered, rare, and exotic wildlife.

Origins of the Everglades
Water in South Florida once flowed from the Kissimmee River (in north central Florida) to Lake Okeechobee (the huge lake in south central Florida). The water then flowed southward over low-lying lands and hundreds of miles to Biscayne Bay (the 35 mile long bay between Miami and Miami Beach), the Ten Thousand Islands (a chain of islands and mangrove islets off the coast of southwest Florida), and Florida Bay (the southern tip of Florida). This shallow, slow-moving sheet of water created a mosaic of ponds, marshes, and forests. Over thousands of years this developed into a balanced ecosystem.

Wading birds such as great egrets, white ibis, herons, and wood storks were abundant. The Cape Sable seaside sparrow, Miami blackheaded snake, manatee, and Florida panther made the Everglades their home. Alligators and crocodiles existed side by side.

The Seminole and Miccosukee Indians settled in the Everglades. Although they battled with the alligators and crocodiles who live in the ‘Glades, they did not interfere with the overall balance of the ecosystem.

The Everglades Today
Today, 50% of South Florida’s original wetland areas no longer exist. The numbers of wading birds have been reduced by 90%. Entire populations of animals are in danger of disappearing. Exotic pest plants have invaded natural areas. Losses of seagrass beds in Florida Bay have been followed by losses of wildlife.

In Marjory Stoneman Douglas’s classic book published in 1947, The Everglades: River of Grass, she wrote, “Unless the people act . . . overdraining will go on. The soil will shrink and burn and be wasted and destroyed, in a continuing ruin.”

[Marjory Stoneman Douglas was the spirited writer and environmentalist who was known as the patron saint of the Florida Everglades due to her ceaseless campaign to preserve the fragile wetlands of south Florida.]

Douglas continued, in a hopeful vein, “There is a balance in man also, one which has set against his greed . . . Perhaps even in this last hour, in a new relation of usefulness and beauty, the vast, magnificent, subtle and unique region of the Everglades may not be utterly lost.”5 Read more here: https://fcit.usf.edu/FLORIDA/lessons/everglades/everglades.htm

Notes

1 Miami’s Historic Neighborhoods: A History of Community, editor Becky Roper Matkov, p.14 https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/view/62392097/miamis-historic-neighborhoods
2 Miami’s Historic Neighborhoods: A History of Community, p.67
3 Miami’s Historic Neighborhoods: A History of Community, p.68
4 https://www.miamiandbeaches.com/things-to-do/history-and-heritage/bathing-casinos-in-miami-beach
5 https://fcit.usf.edu/FLORIDA/lessons/everglades/everglades.htm

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Start Smoking at Thirteen–How Does This Happen?

Super Constellation,1955

We are still focusing on the late 1940s and early 1950s when I was a toddler. Marie and Paul were young parents of four children. Like many in their generation, both of my parents were enthusiastic smokers. These were the same years the TWA hostesses were wearing the cutout uniforms. Smoking had long been permitted on most flights–some even referred to the hazy cabins full of smoke as the “fog of fear” since people believed that smoking soothed nervous flyers. It was not until the 1950s that the airlines added liquor to the menus. Look carefully at the above cross-section of the Super Constellation–notice the passengers with cocktail glasses or cigarettes in their hands.

Allowing intoxicating beverages on board airliners created an additional burden to the job for flight attendants in the 1950s. In the TWA training film from the late 1940s and early 1950s which I mentioned last week, there is even a incident on the simulated flight where the hostess trainee was told to confiscate a flask brought on board by a unruly passenger.

One source explained the shift in cultural attitudes, “By the 1950s mainstream cultural attitudes toward drinking had liberalized considerably, and cocktails had become an integral part of leisure. For postwar “organizational men” and VIPs, airlines’ primary customer base, drinking carried little of its previous social stigma.”1

All the women who worked for TWA as hostesses from 1944 to 1955 wore the unique uniform with the cut-out logo design. She could transform her uniform to civilian wear by covering the TWA logo with the clever design of her jacket. Smoking, drinking, and chewing gum while in uniform were not permitted. We don’t know the percentage of women who smoked at that time. We do know that every woman who wore those uniforms encountered numerous messages about the desirability of becoming a smoker.

TWA cut-out hostess uniforms 1944-1955

How do a society’s cultural attitudes change? The acceptance of smoking and drinking was not fueled by a “grassroots movement” of people seeking betterment of the human condition. Both of these attitude changes in the mainstream culture have been initiated and fueled by movies, television, advertisements and business/corporate interests. Every woman in the U.S. has been exposed to these sophisticated propaganda campaigners.

My cherished mother, Marie, smoked Chesterfield cigarettes throughout her multiple pregnancies. During my entire childhood, my brother and two sisters and I were continually exposed to the second hand smoke of both parents. Mother claimed she started smoking at age thirteen—I wish we had asked her why she started smoking. Smoking was a social activity that infiltrated their daily lives. Dad’s sister, our Aunt Rosemary, was a heavy smoker too. All of them died before their time of smoking related illnesses!

Quick Background on Tobacco Products
Originally tobacco was produced mainly for pipe-smoking, chewing, and snuff. Cigars didn’t become popular until the early 1800s. Cigarettes didn’t become widely popular in the United States until after the Civil War ended in 1865. In the late 1800s, the invention of a practical cigarette-making machine made mass production of cigarettes possible. Smoking boomed in the first half of the twentieth century, thanks to heavy advertising and the inclusion of cigarettes as part of soldiers’ rations during the two world wars.

Women Learn to Smoke

Clearly, attempting to link smoking to emancipation was an effort to manipulate women! The “torches of freedom” term was not an invention of women, but a term introduced by psychoanalyst A. A. Brill when describing “the natural [sic] desire for women to smoke.” Please note, Brill was the first psychoanalyst to practice in the United States and the first translator of Sigmund Freud into English.5 Freudians have never been friends to the best interests of women.

Using that same phrase to further his own career, Edward Bernays, the Austrian-American pioneer in the field of public relations and propaganda, planned a public hoax. Bernays was hired in the 1920s by the American Tobacco Company to expand the market of the Lucky Strike brand of cigarettes to women. He was instructed by the company president, to “crack that market, it will be like opening a new gold mine right in our front yard.”6

To challenge the social taboo against women smoking in public, Bernays hired women to do just that in a very public setting at the annual Easter Parade in New York City. By the late 1800s, this Easter parade of wealthy New Yorkers, both women and men, attired in the latest fashions strolling Fifth Avenue, had “became a permanent fixture on New York’s calendar of civic and social events. With the turn of the new century, Easter in New York had assumed the mantle of a major retail event, ranking alongside Christmas in this significance.” Of course Bernays alerted the press before the carefully staged event he was planning, and had handbills to pass out at the parade.7

The New York Times recently reconsidered that 1929 event. “The march of the Torches of Liberty Brigade is considered one of the most successful publicity stunts ever. In the 1920’s, George Washington Hill, president of the American Tobacco Company, decided to start a campaign to get women to smoke Lucky Strikes. At the time, of course, smoking was considered beyond the pale for any respectable lady. So Mr. Hill recruited a man who was to become a legend of public relations, Edward Bernays.

Health claims for smoking in 1940s ads

Bernays saw an opportunity in the Easter Parade, where women (and men) sashayed up Fifth Avenue in the latest spring fashion. On Easter morning 1929, a dozen female models hired by Bernays paraded up the avenue puffing on Lucky Strikes. It was the first time many spectators had seen any women other than prostitutes smoking in public. The women carried placards that trumpeted their cigarettes as torches of liberty.

Pictures of the models appeared in newspapers around the world, and the ploy tripled the sale of Lucky Strikes….” As Bernays reflected later on this event, “Age old customs, I learned, could be broken down by a dramatic appeal, disseminated by the network of the media.”8

Did some women believed that smoking cigarettes was a way for women to challenge social norms and fight for equal rights? Perhaps. Some sources assert that the cigarette came to symbolize “rebellious independence, glamour, seduction and sexual allure for both feminists and flappers.”10

Tobacco companies continue the relentless marketing of cigarettes to appeal to women during this period.

“The American Tobacco Company began targeting women with its ads for Lucky Strike. Lucky Strike sought to give women the reasons they should be smoking Luckies. They employed ads featuring prominent women, such as Amelia Earhart, and appealed to the vanity [sic] of women by promising slimming effects.

Most of the ads also conveyed a carefree and confident image of women that would appeal to the modern woman of the 1920s. The ads grew more extravagant with paid celebrity testimonials and far-reaching claims of how Lucky Strikes could improve your life. Their most aggressive campaign directly challenged the candy industry by urging women to “reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.”

These aggressive campaigns paid off making Lucky Strike the most smoked brand within a decade.”11

How did smoking become socially acceptable and even socially desirable? In comparison with traditional smoking methods, cigarettes were clean, easy to use, modern, and increasingly cheap. Tobacco companies were successful in the aggressive marketing of cigarettes to women. I’ve learned that, “smoking rates among female teenagers soon triple during the years between 1925-1935!”12 This statistic would have included my mother, Marie! In 1932 she would have been thirteen—the age she told us she began smoking.

In our thinking about who smoked, and about why young women attracted to flying might be tempted to try smoking, I found this: “In a content analysis of North American and British editions of Vogue, Cheryl Krasnick Warsh and Penny Tinkler trace representations of women smokers from the 1920s through the 1960s, concluding that the magazine ‘located the cigarette within the culture of the feminine elite,’ associating it with the constellation of behaviours and appearances presented as desirable characteristics of elitism, through the themes of lifestyle, ‘the look’, and feminine confidence.”13

Early Warnings: 1944

As early as 1944, “the American Cancer Society began to warn about possible ill effects of smoking, although it admitted that ‘no definite evidence exists’ linking smoking and lung cancer. A statistical correlation between smoking and cancer had been demonstrated; but no causal relationship had been shown. More importantly, the general public knew little of the growing body of statistics.

That changed in 1952, when Reader’s Digest published “Cancer by the Carton,” an article detailing the dangers of smoking. The effect of the article was enormous: Similar reports began appearing in other periodicals, and the smoking public began to take notice. The following year, cigarette sales declined for the first time in over two decades.

The tobacco industry responded swiftly. By 1954 the major U.S. tobacco companies had formed the Tobacco Industry Research Council (TIRC) to counter the growing health concerns. With counsel from TIRC, tobacco companies began mass-marketing filtered cigarettes and low-tar formulations that promised a “healthier” smoke. The public responded, and soon sales were booming again.”14

Earlier I asked, “How do a society’s cultural attitudes change?” Of course, this is a complex question. By studying the decades of aggressive marketing by the tobacco companies, “the evidence shows that advertising and promotion by the tobacco industry are effective in raising awareness of smoking, increasing brand recognition, and creating favorable beliefs regarding tobacco use.”15 In other words, those billions of dollars spent by tobacco companies touch all our lives.

“As with all advertising, tobacco advertising frequently relies on imagery to appeal to an individual’s aspirations and conveys very little, if any, factual information about the characteristics of the product. Advertising fulfills many of the aspirations of adolescents and children by effectively using themes of independence, liberation, attractiveness, adventurousness, sophistication, glamour, athleticism, social acceptability and inclusion, sexual attractiveness, thinness, popularity, rebelliousness, and being “cool”.16

Yes, smoking by women has been the “gold mine” for tobacco companies. Not for us. Today, more women die from lung cancer than breast cancer.17 “…the growth of the tobacco industry was dependent on economic and cultural trends, the cigarette marks the convergence of corporate capitalism, technology, mass marketing, and advertising. If the 19th century was the era of the pipe and cigar, the 1950s were the heyday of the cigarette.”18

“Women face more difficulty when trying to quit” explained Dr. Sherry McKee, Director of the Yale Specialized Center of Research (SCOR). Dr. Mckee, and SCOR are developing sex-sensitive treatments for tobacco dependence. “While men might smoke to satisfy a craving for nicotine, women smoke more to manage their moods,” McKee said. “But for women, just treating nicotine withdrawal does not help reduce negative moods, enhance positive moods, or manage stress, appetite, and weight. And the relationship between stress and smoking appears to be stronger in women than men, leaving women less able to quit or more likely to restart smoking after stressful events such as a financial setback.”19

I believe that by identifying and analyzing the conditions we women live through, we can resist the false images used against women and girls. We can claim independence, liberation, attractiveness, adventurousness, and community for ourselves. I’m hoping there will be no more thirteen year old girls reaching for a cigarette.



Postscript
One: “In 1971, television ads for cigarettes were finally taken off the air in the U.S. Cigarettes, however, are still the most heavily advertised product second to automobiles!”20

Two: TWA and other carriers created non-smoking sections in 1977. The airlines resisted banning smoking given “an environment where tobacco companies exerted immense influence on a public debate that highly valued the concept of “smoker’s rights.” In 1988, smoking was finally banned from U.S. domestic flights of two hours or less. As a result “a spokesman for the “Smokers Rights Alliance” threatened airport protests and legal action.”21 In early 1990 federal law banned smoking on nearly every domestic flight.

Three: “Flight attendants, led by activist Patty Young, an American Airlines flight attendant since 1966, began fighting for the right to work in a tobacco-free environment in the summer of 1966. The flight attendants (and their unions) sought and obtained assistance from health advocates to promote their fight to breathe clean air in airline cabins. Their efforts were crucial in building sufficient momentum for smoke-free flights throughout the advocacy process.”22

Four: “Despite negative advertising promoted in the 1960’s and 1970’s, as well as the current lawsuits filed against tobacco companies, the industry continues to flourish. Tobacco products are widely marketed outside the United States, allowing tobacco its place as a valuable commodity for export in the American economy.”23 Today U.S. tobacco companies are targeting women and girls around the world with all the tactics mentioned here.

TWA hostess uniforms 1944-1955 cut-out style. both winter & summer


Notes:

1 Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants, Kathleen M. Barry p.43 FF
2 https://academic.udayton.edu/health/syllabi/tobacco/history.htm
3 https://furymovie.fandom.com/wiki/Lucky_Strike_cigarettes
4 https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/9/1/3
5 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torches_of_Freedom
6 https://yourstory.com/2014/08/torches-of-freedom

7 https://mashable.com/2016/03/27/new-york-easter-parade/
8 https://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/31/nyregion/fyi-293806.html
9 https://truthinitiative.org/research-resources/tobacco-industry-marketing/slim-and-stylish-how-tobacco-companies-hooked-women
10 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torches_of_Freedom
11 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_and_smoking
12 https://academic.udayton.edu/health/syllabi/tobacco/history.htm
13 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Women_and_smoking
14 http://edition.cnn.com/US/9705/tobacco/history/
15 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK99238/
16 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK99238/
17 https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/50th-anniversary/pdfs/fs_women_smoking_508.pdf
18 A Global History of Smoking edited by Sander L. Gilman, Zhou Xun, p.328
19 https://medicine.yale.edu/whr/news/smoking/
20 https://academic.udayton.edu/health/syllabi/tobacco/history.htm
21 https://www.forbes.com/sites/tedreed/2015/02/24/twenty-five-years-ago-u-s-airlines-banned-smoking-on-domestic-flights/#7df00a725407
22 https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/13/suppl_1/i30
23 https://www.lib.ncsu.edu/archivedexhibits/tobacco/tecon.html

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Dressed for the Occasion

TWA hostess uniforms1944-1955 cut-out design by Howard Greer

I’ve been a collector for as long as I can remember. I’m especially drawn to fabric items like these unique TWA uniforms. Occasionally, I’ve seen this uniform for sale online, but I have no space for more fabric. Instead, for the last year, I’ve been corralling photos of TWA hostesses wearing the cut-out uniform designed by Howard Greer and Ida Staggers.

In cataloguing all the photos, I’ve noticed an anomaly–some of these uniform jackets have three buttons, others have four buttons. The difference seemed so obvious, that I was surprised I’d not noticed before. When or why that change happened, we’ll never know. I have dates for a few of the photos. One, dated 1948, shows Violet Sweeney Ward wearing her three button uniform. It seems that sometime during the eleven years, 1944-1955, the uniform was worn there was at least one modification to the design.

Of course, we are exploring more than what these working women wore to work. The material reality of what the airline, as employer, chose for the hostess uniform reflects the airline’s image of the women they hired.

Author Angelica Rose Gertel reminds us that after WWII, everywhere in the U.S. “Companies actively placed limitations to prevent the advancement of women in the workplace, presuming that women had taken jobs that could have instead been given to veterans.” In this climate, “The airplane offered an escape from the jobs normally permitted to women in the wartime and post war era. While the position of flight attendant emerged from nursing, or traditional women’s work, it offered an unprecedented opportunity for freedom through scheduling. While enforcing social standards of femininity and domesticity, flight attendants broke the conventional image of ideal womanhood.”1 Gertel added, some women wanted “to explore the world by air. Many women simply loved the exhilaration that flying had to offer.”2

Working aloft permitted women a great amount of independence, yet flying did have risks. Accidents in this era were not uncommon, crashes were often fatal. Sixty-four flight attendants have died since 1938 when CAB record keeping began. (This figure does not include unscheduled airlines.)3 This figure does include the twenty-five flight attendants (twenty women and five men) who died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Here is a link to a moving tribute to those women and men working aloft in those three U.S. airliners. https://thepointsguy.com/news/remembering-the-8-pilots-and-25-flight-attendants-who-died-on-9-11/

TWA hostess uniforms 1944-1955

Iconic TWA hostess uniforms TWA 1944-1955

“The stewardess [or hostess] can be viewed as the airline’s image of the women they hired, heavily promoted through advertising to the public.” “4 The airline’s image of the women they hired to work as air hostesses is quite clear in all of these publicity photos. I’ve discovered these photos online because they were meant to be publicity, that is carefully crafted images controlled by the company. Candid photos of flight attendants at work are rare. Each airline intends to keep tight control of their image especially today in the age of handy cell phone photos.

1944-1955 TWA hostess uniforms

TWA hostess uniforms1944-1955

In this era at TWA, the women wearing the cut-out uniform were generally flying on the porpoise-shaped plane with the distinctive three tail fins I described earlier, the Lockheed Constellation. see: http://paulamariedaughter.com/?p=2776 These two icons, uniform and aircraft, share an intertwined history.

I’m always searching, and hoping for first person accounts of flying from women who have “worked the skies”. I’ve found several to share with you. Sometimes tracking down a photo leads me to a woman’s story. Sometimes it’s a lucky find from persistent internet searches.

1948 TWA hostess

“Aunt Vi’s flying career started in a simple way. On a Saturday morning in 1947, her mother suggested that she visit a cousin who was suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. So Aunt Vi took the streetcar to his home at 80th and Justine. Fatefully, he had been reading the paper recently and told her that TWA was advertising for air hostesses in Chicago and that she should go for an interview.”

Read about Aunt Violet’s adventures at TWA from 1945-1958 as told to her niece: https://www.travelingwithsweeney.com/traveling-with-sweeney-twa-air-hostess/

Memoir: Helen Parker Holden 1940s TWA air hostess, cut-out uniform
Try Walking Across: A Memoir by Helen Parker Holden could be a fun “summer read”! Purchase it online. Here is an excerpt:

“TWA wanted all the exposure it could get to promote its brand and product. The company arranged publicity and promotional events—anything to get our name in film or print. Today it is called ‘product placement’. (See the Fred Astaire/Audrey Hepburn film Funny Face.) The company usually used real TWA hostesses rather than hiring models, I got to be in some of the publicity shots and special events.”5

Link: https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&q=Walking+Across%3A+A+Memoir+by+Helen+Parker+holden

The illusion of glamour attached to the stewardess or hostess of this period “was so widely recognized that advertisers deployed it to sell their own products.”6 In the photo below, the Hotpoint stove in the window display has a hostess, in her cut-out TWA uniform, gesturing to the hostess outside also in uniform. Signs in the display repeat the advertising quip, “Sisters under the skin” twice.

1944-1955 TWA hostess cut-out uniforms

At center we see Barbie dressed in a 1940s cut-out uniform with the tiny TWA logo on her right shoulder–true proof this is a cultural icon of a uniform! At right we see a vintage set of TWA hostess paper dolls–I wonder if the “blous-slip” garment is included in her uniform set?


Post Script:

Speaking of anomalies–did you notice the quite different TWA cut-out uniform worn by Audrey McNamara Nevis when she is seated by Tyrone Power? Her uniform looks like blue linen, and she’s wearing a white blouse with a rounded collar–one more mystery for me to ponder!

Backstory on the Tyrone Power and TWA Connection
After discovering the photo of Audrey McNamara Nevis seated with Tyrone Power and then another earlier photo online of Power with two TWA hostesses dressed in the previous uniforms, ie the 1938-1944 era, I kept searching for a possible connection between TWA and Power. I did discovered connections between Howard Hughes and Power. Both were pilots and part of Hollywood movie people in the 1930s and 1940s. The ad in the photo below appeared a year before the U.S. entered WWII.

Power enlisted in the Marine Corps in August, 1942 as an experienced pilot. The Marine Corps considered Power, at 28, over the age limit for active combat flying. Power volunteered for piloting cargo planes believing this would get him into active combat zones. He flew missions carrying cargo in and wounded Marines out during the Battles of Iwo Jima (Feb-Mar 1945) and Okinawa (Apr-Jun 1945).

It seems like “the old-boys network”, enjoying their “man-size” cabin, connected these three! TWA pilot Robert (Bob) Buck spent three months as co-pilot with Power and a small retinue traveling in Power’s plane on a tour of South America, Africa and Europe in the fall 1947. TWA’s owner, Hughes, enlisted Bob Buck to fly with Power on that trip. Source: http://www.ladyevesreellife.com/2012/08/remembering-tyrone-power.html

Notes
1 “Not just a pretty face: The evolution of the flight attendant”, Angelica Rose Gertel, 2014 James Madison University p.38-39
https://commons.lib.jmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1441&context=honors201019
2 Gertel p.36
3 Gertel p.35
4 Gertel p.45
5 Try Walking Across, Helen Parker Holden p. 193
6 Gertel p.35

Please send me any photos you find that are not in my collection.

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Hollywood Styled, Subdued Elegance….1944-1955

1944-1955 TWA Cut-out hostess uniforms

I’ve been fascinated by the design of this 1944-1955 TWA hostess uniform and the story behind it since I first saw it in photographs. These uniforms were designed by Howard Greer, a Hollywood designer, and are known as the “cut-out” uniform because of the openwork TWA lettering on the right shoulder.

If my mother, Marie, had not married in 1944, but had sought a job as an air hostess with TWA, she would have admired these uniforms too! Marie liked tailored, practical clothes and she liked to “look nice”–this was her highest praise. I’m sure she would have appreciated the classic styling, but she would have especially liked the unique feature that allowed women to appear at work in their uniform at one moment, the next moment they could be officially out-of-uniform. As a smoker, this feature would have appealed to her.

By removing her hat, then unbuttoning the triangular flap on her right shoulder, a hostess could conceal the TWA logo—thus she would not be on-duty or in uniform! Now she wore a designer suit with covered buttons and unique detailing at each shoulder. Both summer and winter uniforms displayed this feature.

elegant TWA cut-out summer uniform by Howard Greer

As a group, TWA’s air hostesses worked long days and spent much of the month away from their home bases. She needed a uniform which was sturdy but still flattering after long days at work. An air hostess also needed her uniform to be versatile since she was limited by how much luggage she could carry on board. Company regulations did not permit a hostess to chew gum, smoke or drink alcoholic beverages while in uniform.1

The summer blue wool gabardine ensemble is the one most often seen in photographs. Each letter of the TWA logo was outlined in red stitching—the same red required for lipstick and nail varnish. The jacket is fitted at the waist and the skirt falls just below the knee and features a kick-pleat in back. The suit was manufactured by Briny Marlin Coat & Suit Company.2 Wool has been used extensively in year-round suits for women and for men for decades since wool resists abrasion, drapes well and wrinkles little. Wool gabardine is a twill-woven cloth known for its smoothness and durability.

!944-1955 TWA hostess uniforms

In looking back on women’s fashions during WWII, Rachel H. Kemper wrote, “The combination of neat blouses and sensibly tailored suits became the distinctive attire of the working woman, college girl, and young society matron.”3 Knowing this, I asked myself, “How would an experienced Hollywood costume and fashion designer like Greer create a unique version of the basic “sensible tailored suit”?

None of Howard Greer’s professional credentials mention that he had designed the popular “cut-out” uniform that TWA hostesses wore for over a decade. We know that this unusual design was introduced in 1944 and worn nationwide until 1955.4 If the uniforms were introduced in 1944, the designing and manufacturing probably began in late 1942 or early 1943. What airline executive would consider changing their hostess uniforms in the midst of a war and with the war rationing of fabric? Someone with an expansive eye for the future and money to spend!

Millionaire Howard Hughes, both pilot and movie-maker, was a controlling force at TWA for decades starting in 1939. He was adept at creating publicity for TWA and certainly was looking to position TWA as an aviation leader once the war was over. All that is known. After considerable sleuthing, I have an “educated guess” that Hughes hired Greer to design the new hostess uniforms for TWA!

In 1930 Hughes was a Hollywood producer and director. The epic aviation war film, Hell’s Angels, was the most expensive movie to be made at the time. Hell’s Angels was an early “talkie” movie and starred 18 year old Jean Harlow. Howard Greer was the costume designer for that movie which took almost three years to make.

I believe it is safe to assume that Hughes knew Greer and his skill as a designer. I’m not aware of any other Hollywood fashion designer who has ever been hired by an airline to design flight attendant uniforms. It’s likely that Hughes trusted his own judgment after having worked with Greer on that movie.

Howard Greer,designer of the TWA cutout uniforms worn 1944-1955

The previous uniforms had been designed by Gladys Entriken, TWA’s chief hostess and were introduced in 1938 at the lavish opening of New York’s LaGuardia Airport. That would be the last time a woman had the opportunity to design uniforms for TWA flight crews. See photos of those earlier uniforms here: http://paulamariedaughter.com/?paged=2

However, several sources indicate that after suggestions from supervisor of TWA hostess services, Ida Staggers, Greer introduced the “blous-slip,” a combined blouse and undergarment that did not need constant tucking in.5 Picture a navy blue slip with the upper half being a collarless blouse (as seen above). The shiny surface created by the satin weave of the rayon fibers bolstered the reputation of rayon as “artificial silk”.

Ida Staggers helped  design the fabulous "cut-out" uniforms in the mid 1940s for TWA
After months of research, only this week did I find a full description and a picture of this useful garment! The navy blue “blous-slip” has a rear neck zipper and a side zipper. Below the left shoulder, the TWA letters are embroidered in red. Thus, if the hostess removed her jacket in-flight, her blouse would clearly identify her as a TWA employee. Surprisingly, this blous-slip also has a small triangular flap that buttons above the logo allowing it to be dropped to conceal the letters when she was wearing it when off-duty. (See collage above.)

winter: khaki versions of the cut-out TWA hostess uniforms, 1944-1955

Wing on Your Hat?

It’s my understanding that the women working as air hostesses were required to wear their hat whenever in uniform, including in-flight. This seems to be the case in each of the vintage videos I’ve viewed. Apparently, hats were an integral part of the hostess image at TWA since the same basic style upsweep style in different fabrics and colors was worn from 1938 to 1960! No jewelry could be worn with the uniform.

The sturdy blue wool hat featured a left upsweep to the crown which was accented with a red and blue cockade, that is, an ornamental knot of red and blue ribbons. The silver hostess wing was pinned to the center of the ribbon cockade—you can see a ceremonial pinning of the single wing during this time period at the end of the video, Airline Glamour Girls, made in 1949 and mentioned below. Hats were one of the few pieces of clothing not rationed during WWII. This oversight encouraged a lot of attention to be paid to these accessories. The hat carried the label: Leci Original.

As you can see in the first photo on this blog, both hostesses carry a medium size shoulder bag on their left shoulder to avoid covering the cut-out TWA logo. Since the blouse is navy blue we can assume the handbag and shoes were navy blue too. A dark overcoat is also part of the uniform, no description or photo–just a glimpse in the following film. I’ve not found any still photos that illustrate the luggage carried by the women who wore the cut-out uniforms. In the 1952 TWA promotional film, About Your Flight, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNHye5xGvpE it is clear that the luggage the women carried was about the size of a modern piece of carry-on luggage—not room for much at all.6

Mergers that created TWA

Transcontinental becomes Trans World
When these new uniforms were commissioned about 1942 or 1943, the TWA actually meant Transcontinental & Western Airlines. After the war, TWA gained international routes that had formerly been reserved for Pan Am. Hughes chose to change the name to Trans World Airlines to emphasize its worldwide routes—different name, but using the same TWA acronymn.

TWA hostess on Constellation or "Connie", circa1950

In 1945, every Constellation airship used by the government during the war was quickly repainted in the red and white TWA colors. The air hostesses, in their snazzy new uniforms, were quite excited to be flying on the “Connie” since cabin pressurization and smooth flying made their jobs easier. Easier, until the Super-Constellation came online in the 1951 with almost double the number of passenger seats–increasing their workload for the same pay.

Additionally, because of their high altitude and physically taxing working conditions, air hostesses and stewardesses were among the first to experience the discomfort of what is now called “jet lag”! Previously, it was uncommon to travel far and fast enough to cross multiple time zones which can create sleep disturbances, fatigue, headaches, irritability, indigestion and more.

I’ve written extensively about the cut-out, my favorite of the vintage uniforms, but how did a woman get hired to fly from coast to coast or overseas during the 1940s and 1950s? I found a gem of a short film made in 1949 to answer that question. I hope you’ll click here for a short nine minute story full of authentic airline photos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9-zyLq067Y
Watching the film, Airline Glamour Girls, just brought up more questions. Here is a synopsis of the story and my thoughts.

In Airline Glamour Girls, we follow a secretary who decides she wants to work as an air hostess. She writes a letter, secures an interview. The chief hostess of the unnamed airline tells her she does not yet qualify (the nurse requirement disappeared during WWII). The chief hostess then hands her a list of “training schools”. The heroine leaves her job and apartment in New York City, travels to Minneapolis, pays $325 (almost three months salary) for an eight week training course.7

Training at the McConnell Air Hostess and Air Stewardess School begins after each girl dons her school uniform. Subjects include classes on aeronautics, geography, grooming, calisthenics, in-flight service procedures and safety concerns. Near the end of the training period, a woman in the TWA cut-out uniform comes to look her over, interview her and review her school records. “Watch for a letter from us”, our hopeful young woman is told. (Just like I was told in the fall of 1968 after they looked me over.) Her letter of acceptance arrives.

She is now off to Kansas City for two more weeks of training there before she receives her wing in a stirring scene on a windy tarmac with TWA planes in the background.

training TWA hostesses at McConnell School 1940s

McConnell School for Air Hostesses and Stewardess
In the film, the relationship between the McConnell School and TWA is unclear—even murky from the distance of eighty years. However, I’ve pieced together some information. Zell McConnell, in a large booklet from 1951 praising her training school, described her own background as having “spent several successful years on the American stage in both dramatic and musical comedy roles.” She continued to explain she had been an instructor at a major airline’s training department before she opened her school in 1945. She is described as founder and president of the school.

However, in the book, The Airplane in American Culture, this footnote told a variation of the story, “Zell ran a string of modeling schools and set up classes to train recruits for Continental, Northwest and TWA.” 8

We can now speculate that until TWA created its own elaborate hostess training facility in Kansas City, the company used private “airline training schools” to pre-train possible candidates. Again, the airline companies were able to shift their cost of training to the individual woman who had high hopes of flying. She had no guarantee—the risk was hers. The McConnell School operated into the 1990s.

Kathleen Barry in her classic book, Femininity in Flight, A History of Flight Attendants challenges us to reconsider all we think we know about this so-called glamour job.

“Stewardesses were especially apt icons of glamorous femininity for the postwar years as working women who dramatically transcended domesticity, yet reassuringly represented it.9 Pride in being an airline ‘glamour girl’ was widely shared among stewardesses of the postwar era. The glamour of being a stewardess was a double-edged sword in many ways, an exaggeration of the constraints and benefits more generally of endeavoring to meet white, middle-class standards of feminine respectability and allure.”10

Young women were drawn to the smiling image of independence, combined with social approval, given to women who worked as air hostesses or stewardesses. The illusions of “an easy job simply pleasing people” or “entertaining as a hostess in your own living room”, as TWA stressed to us in 1969, was the illusion that kept young women eager to accept a job where they would consistently be undervalued and exploited. At the same time, employers, the general public, friends and family would see them as having a “glamorous” job and leading a “glamorous” life despite the facts.

We, women who have flown as flight attendants, are a diverse group with a wide range of life experiences and many different viewpoints. Each of us enjoyed the distinct benefits of traveling, and we coped with the unreasonable demands and expectations place on us in a variety of ways. Sometimes it was humor, as in the motto, “Another day, another tray…”

Postscript
Howard Greer designer of 1944-1955 TWA Hostess uniforms

Notes
1 TWA Museum website http://twamuseumguides.blogspot.com/2017/02/presenting-case-for-twas-attendants-our.html
2 Exhibit: Fashion In Flight: A History of Airline Uniform Design https://www.sfomuseum.org/exhibitions/fashion-flight-history-airline-uniform-design/detail
3 Kemper, Rachel H: “Costume”(1992)pg. 144 (WIKI)
4 TWA Museum website http://twamuseumguides.blogspot.com/2017/02/presenting-case-for-twas-attendants-our.html
5 TWA Museum website http://twamuseumguides.blogspot.com/2017/02/presenting-case-for-twas-attendants-our.html
6 TWA promotional film, 1952 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNHye5xGvpE
7 Femininity in Flight: A History of flight Attendants, Kathleen Barry,2007,p. 46
8 footnote 5 in the article “McConnell Schools Training Stewardesses for Three Airlines” in American Aviation 10 (November 14, 1946 p48) which references footnote #26 in The Airplane in American Culture, edited by Dominick Pisano
9 Femininity in Flight: A History of flight Attendants, Kathleen Barry,2007,p. 61
10 Femininity in Flight: A History of flight Attendants, Kathleen Barry,2007,p. 58

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1945, We Need a Union Because We Deserve a Raise!

As a woman passionate about the liberation of women, I’m weaving several threads through my story telling. I’ve recently been writing about my own family, but before leaving the 1940s time frame, I’m writing about women who paved the way for me to work as a flight attendant. I want you to know the United Airlines stewardesses who started the first stewardess union.

In 1945 (my birth year) United Airlines stewardesses were paid the same $125 a month as the initial group of “sky girls” in 1930! Determined and single-minded women began organizing, first at United. One union activist said, “We had no rights, let’s put it that way. We were at the mercy of the company. There were no rules or regulations about monthly flight time. If a stewardess didn’t show up to replace you on multi-stops across the country, the company would just say, ‘You have to continue flying.'” 1

In late 1944 United’s chief stewardess, Ada J. Brown, frustrated by the company’s unwillingness to upgrade conditions for the stewardesses, left her management position to return to the all-female rank and file and to begin organizing a union. She recalled, “As chief stewardess I tried to get improvements for the girls with salary, flight regulations, and protection from unjust firing.”2

Other United stewardesses including Sally Thometz, Frances Hall, Edith Lauterbach and Sally Watt became enthusiastic union organizers–organizing at the bases in San Francisco, Denver, and Chicago.

“I had planned to fly one year and quit,” Lauterbach told an interviewer in 1985. “It was a male-dominated industry and they weren’t anxious to have women hang around.” Later she added, “After we flew for a while, we realized it wasn’t as glamorous as we thought. We had to crawl on our hands and knees during rough weather and deliver meals in the turbulence, clean up after the passengers when they got sick…. Those little planes were all over the sky in bad weather.”3

By August 1945 they had organized the Air Line Stewardess Association (ALSA) and began contract negotiations with United. A year later, in April 1946, the women at ALSA had won a contract raising monthly salaries to $155, won a limit of 85 in-flight hours per month, and initiated pay for all the hours spent working on the ground, not just in-flight hours.

By contract, the company agreed to pay for half the initial cost of the uniforms and finally agreed to a grievance procedure to challenge disciplinary actions and dismissals. All these were vitally important work rule improvements for the working women at United. Note: in 1947 ALSA President Ada Brown, 30, marries and becomes a victim of United’s no-marriage rule. She is forced to retire from her career and the union presidency.4

In the generally well-paid airline industry, flight attendants were at the bottom of the wage ladder. By 1955 the average salary for flight attendants in the U.S. was just under $3,300, while pilots and co-pilots claimed more than three times as much. Other airline ground workers such as maintenance, clerical, etc. took home average yearly pay of between $4,300 and $5,300.5

The successful bargaining at United changed the picture at every airline! Within five years two-thirds of U.S. stewardesses at sixteen air lines had union representation. Ada J. Brown is an admired heroine for me!

Update: I just this morning discovered a youtube video featuring interviews with both Ada Brown and Edith Lauterbach! Lauterbach retired from United in 1989. She continues to be involved in union work with AFA! Produced by the current flight attendant union, the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the film begins with historical footage. Current coverage includes discussion of the vital role of flight attendants during the 9/11 attacks and introduces flight attendants as aviation’s “first responders”. View this 18 minute video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1111&v=qKbn905qohI&feature=emb_logo

All these gutsy women left a lasting legacy to women workers and to flight attendants. Before flying for United, Edith Lauterbach (mentioned above) had earned a degree in political science from UC Berkeley in 1942, and later said she joined United as “a lark.” I, too, had earned a degree in political science (1967). Like Edith, it did not take me long to become a union activist.6

Let’s talk about uniforms since the subject was important in that first union contract. When I started with TWA in 1969, we were told we had to pay for our first set of uniforms. Should the company change our uniforms, they would then pay for the replacements. We paid for three outfits for summer and three for winter. TWA took payments out of our meager paychecks. This is quite a corporate trick—get your employees to cover the company’s uniform costs!

This was a good deal for the airlines for the many decades stewardess careers were short due to the restrictive age and no-marriage rules of the airlines. Age requirements drove down wages and prevented career-oriented stewardesses from accruing seniority or benefits. These regulations also aimed to prevent stewardesses from organizing for better pay and work policies. Once we legally challenged those rules, flight attendants had longer flying careers. One result of those changes meant that the airline companies would have to absorb a larger percentage the cost of their employees’ uniforms.

Uniforms serve at least two purposes. For those wearing the uniform, you assume that others wearing the same uniform are your colleagues, your allies. For the flying public, the uniform identifies the wearer as representatives of the designated airline. Dressing in a uniform can be a mental shift to accept the responsibilities assigned to you as an employee.

Dressing in a uniform is always full of symbolism. Uniforms are meant to convey messages–both to the wearer and to the observer. “Symbols have both psychological and political effects, because they create the inner conditions (deep-seated attitudes and feelings) that lead people to feel comfortable with or to accept social and political arrangements that correspond to the symbol system.”7 Women working as stewardesses in 1945 were ready to challenge the white male dominated airline management, the unions, and the government because they realized that the current “social and political arrangements” kept them at a disadvantage! No one expected a pilot to be weighed before a flight, or checked to see that he wore a girdle under his uniform.

I vividly remember the excitement we felt in 1969 when, as trainees, we realized we had made it through training, and would be wearing our uniforms (with a required girdle) the next day at graduation. That particular uniform, introduced in 1968, was not my favorite—who looks good in lemon yellow, or avocado green or a bright pumpkin color? And, really, the skirts were too short for comfort. Rather, it was the idea of the uniform. It was the idea of being part of this flying sisterhood! The uniform was a symbol of our willingness to act in the best interest of the group, to be a team, should we face an emergency.

Before every takeoff we would arm the emergency exit doors. After landing it was imperative that we disarm those powerful escape slides attached to the door. Often the doors were located in a galley. Should we forget, and the galley service people opened the door from the outside, the powerful surge of that escape slide could injure or kill them. We remembered and we cross-checked for each other.

Our skills, our willingness to take charge in case of an emergency were almost invisible. We were trained to evacuate hundreds of passengers. We were safety directors. We were safety directors disguised as merely helpful crew members. Neither the flying public nor the airlines wanted to remind passengers that flying could be dangerous. Institutional acknowledgment of our capabilities would have been extremely valuable to us as a group and as individuals. Neither government officials nor the airlines wanted that to happen.

Our flight attendant unions have long sought professional certification of basic proficiency for flight attendants by the FAA just as the pilots are certified by the FAA in their area of expertise. For decades the pilots’ union has successfully opposed certification for flight attendants claiming it could compromise their own authority on the aircraft.

Ellen Church, the experienced pilot who United Airlines rejected in 1930, offered United the alternative idea of hiring female nurses to fly as cabin crew. United told her to recruit seven other nurses to fly as “sky girls” on a trial basis. Once that idea was accepted, the women earned their wings and carved out their own niche in aviation. The men in charge handed these women their wing, that is, a half of a set of wings–symbols of their secondary status on board an aircraft. Few women journeyed as regularly or as far from home as these young women who flew as stewardesses. But, they needed to “know their place”.

Few of us questioned our half-wing status until the women’s liberation movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s urged us to rethink all we knew and to question everything!

That’s when I really saw my single wing–it was a potent symbol of our secondary status! In fact, when male flight attendants were first hired at TWA in 1974, they received a full set of wings pinned to there uniforms. We wore our single lopsided wing. Of course, most passengers assumed, according to accepted “social and political arrangements”, that these new-hire male flight attendants were our supervisors! The true set of wings the men wore helped reinforce that assumption.

In 1973, as one of the founding members of the feminist organization, Stewardesses for Women’s Rights (SFWR), I helped numerous flying partners file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. We challenged the restrictions airlines placed on stewardesses’ age, marital status, weight, uniform, grooming regulations, and more. In our list of complaints, we mentioned that disparity in the flight wings awarded to male flight attendants.

Many of our complaints about discrimination were resolved before the EEOC ever heard our cases. The airline industry, under pressure from our flight attendant unions as well as lawsuits, modified most of the list of concerns we had take to the EEOC. Finally, four years later in 1978, when TWA changed uniforms for flight attendants, all of us were wearing the same set of wings. One small, symbolic victory.

Those of us who created Stewardesses for Women’s Rights worked for a variety of airlines and lived all over the U.S. Our purpose in uniting was “to fight sexual and racial discrimination, and to ensure that women are given equal employment and promotional opportunities in the airline industry.” The impact of our efforts as a group pressured our unions to fight for these same goals.

Most of what I see written about flight attendants is inaccurate, or disrespectful or insulting. But Kathleen Barry in Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants has earned my respect. Barry writes that stewardesses “…were quite well aware of what that glamour cost them in conformity to stringent airline rules, in meager wages and no job security, and in working hard at appearing not to be working at all. Given the aura of glamour surrounding postwar stewardesses and all the cultural adulation they received, it may seem surprising that they should also have distinguished themselves by joining the heavily male and blue-color labor movement. But stewardesses’ willingness to to work hard extended not only to embody the airline-defined femininity: it extended to having their efforts taken seriously as real work too.”8

Notes

1 http://yourafa.org/why-afa/weve-come-a-long-way
2 Femininity In Flight: A History of Flight Attendants, Kathleen M. Barry 2007 p.63
3 https://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-xpm-2013-feb-06-la-me-edith-lauterbach-20130207-story.html
4 https://unitedafa.org/afa/about/milestones/
5 Femininity In Flight: A History of Flight Attendants, Kathleen M. Barry 2007 p.65
6 https://www.latimes.com/local/obituaries/la-xpm-2013-feb-06-la-me-edith-lauterbach-20130207-story.html
7 Carol Christ https://www.goddessariadne.org/why-women-need-the-goddess-part-1
8 Femininity In Flight: A History of Flight Attendants, Kathleen M. Barry 2007 p.58

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