Boeing Air Transport hired the first Sky Girls in 1930 as an experiment. Not until five years later did Transcontinental & Western Air (then T&WA) graduate its first hostess class on December 6, 1935. The early air transport companies made little profit and existed on air mail contracts with the federal government. Any cabin crew would take space away from the revenue-producing air mail sacks. Those new air hostesses had to be petite! Trained in Kansas City, the graduating class, pictured above, consisted of 22 young women.
Earlier in 1935, TWA initially hired 60 hostesses from a pool of over 2,000 applicants. Only those twenty-two completed training and earned their wings. Each of the women interviewed was between 21 and 26 years of age, was between 5′ and 5’4″ tall, was a registered nurse and was not married. TWA interviewers looked for each to possess “intelligence, tact and charm”. Their training included geography, ticket handling and working the heating system on the DC-2. Each received $2.50 per day during her three-week training course for personal expenses and apartment rent. Most significantly, they were creating a new career path for women in an industry that was in its infancy, embarking on a journey that was certainly unfamiliar to them.1
At that time, many citizens strongly believed the perils of flying were overwhelming. The City Manager of Kansas City, MO, Henry McElroy, in the mid-1920s asserted,” A man is a damn fool to get his feet off the ground. Let me tell you all there is to aviation. There’s a lot of young bucks who learned to fly (during the World War I). As soon as they have smashed the crates (planes) and killed themselves there will be no more flying.” 2
The future in aviation for these young women was potentially exciting and rewarding as much as it was unpredictable. “Rough weather rendered some flights so unbearable that entire cabins had to be hosed out afterward. TWA employees spoke of ‘the vomit comet to Albuquerque’ only half-jokingly.”3 In the 1930’s aviation researchers dreamed of flying at high altitude above the weather because it would pay dividends in passenger comfort, higher speed, and longer range.
Adventure, a break from the routine, and the thrill of visiting other cultures were the same reasons young women have always given to the question,”why would you want this job”? And, let’s add– there is this exquisite thrill of leaving earth and of flight itself! Adventure and hard work were combined for cabin crews before cabins were pressurized in the 1950s. Those early uniforms you see here were serviceable outfits for women working long hard days. The uniforms were single breasted jackets with skirts below the knees, and a single pleat at the front for easy movement.
Companies create uniform clothing with a distinctive design as a way to identify members of a particular group of workers. Other entities may have other motives for using similar versions of a particular uniform and to appropriate an established image.
1938: TWA’s chief hostess, Gladys Entriken, designs new uniforms!
Winter Blue, in above photo and Cream Linen, in photo below
New uniforms designed by TWA’s chief hostess, Gladys Entriken, were introduced in 1938 at the opening of New York’s LaGuardia Airport. The “winter” version of a medium blue gabardine featured a double breasted jacket with a flared skirt, again for easy movement. The summer version, in cream linen, was issued the following year. It was identical except for the colors—cream with a pale blue blouse. Both uniform jackets had buttons with the TWA logo, and the high-sided hat, was worn at a jaunty angle, and featured a grosgrain cockade for the TWA insignia. The skirts were shorter but still cover the knees.
In 1941, famed artist George Petty created a drawing featuring the image of a TWA air hostess. It is believed that the purpose was twofold: to generate publicity for TWA and to drum up patriotism. As World War II unfolded, “TWA’s Petty Girl”, wearing the blue winter uniform, would be seen by millions through posters, postcards and even luggage tags. 4
Please compare the images. The sexualized drawing is a caricature of the real woman in the postcard and the eleven women striding across the tarmac! This is the first example I have found of TWA’s use of a sexualized image of flight attendants or air hostesses in their promotions. But not the last!
2 TWA: Kansas City’s Hometown Airline, Julius A. Karash and Rick Montgomery, 2001 p.10
3 same, p.18
4 Same as #1, TWA Museum