The great stewardess rebellion How women launched a workplace rebellion at 30,000 feet

Nell McShane Wulfhart

Book - 2022

"The empowering story of a group of spirited stewardesses who fought for their rights in the cabin and revolutionized the workplace for all American women"--

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New York : Doubleday [2022]
First edition
Physical Description
ix, 309 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 263-294) and index.
Main Author
Nell McShane Wulfhart (author)
  • Part I. Patt
  • Honeybuns on the charm farm
  • Gloves to grievances
  • The airstrip
  • Sonia in fantasyland
  • What the BFOQ?
  • Black mollies
  • Think of her as your mother
  • Do women age faster on airplanes?
  • In and out of uniform
  • Part II. Tommie
  • Flying pianos
  • Pregnancy and pursers
  • The case of Mary Pat
  • Men on board
  • Smiling through it all
  • Stewardesses for women's rights
  • We really move our tails for you
  • First the commies, then the feminists
  • The single room contract
  • Part III. Patt and Tommie
  • Stay or go?
  • Election day
  • Professionals at last.
Review by Choice Review

Stewardesses in the 1960s and 1970s were imagined as waitresses in the sky and glamorous playthings for men. Forced to undergo humiliating weight checks, wear sexy outfits, and be fired when they married or reached age 32, stewardesses were not perceived as air safety professionals. As Wulfhart (journalist) explains with the aid of many advertisements, the airplane cabin was the sexist workplace in America. The airlines, the media, and the male-dominated Transport Workers Union (TWU) disparaged stewardesses until they began to organize. The 1964 Civil Right Act banned sex discrimination, but the government did not enforce this provision. Stewardesses fought the US government to treat sex discrimination as real discrimination. They created an organization to push back on demeaning images of stewardesses in the media, and they left the TWU to form a new union that would fight for working women. In 1971, the Supreme Court ruled in a case brought by a stewardess that marriage had nothing to do with job competence, thereby protecting all women workers from being fired upon marriage. Wulfhart profiles several flight attendants, from their decisions to become stewardesses through their training and career challenges. The result is a highly readable history. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers. --Caryn E. Neumann, Miami University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission. Review by Booklist Review

This engaging account describes how women flight attendants (or stewardesses, as they were known during the last half of the twentieth century) fought for decades for equal wages, an end to blatantly sexist work cultures, and the respect due to them as highly skilled professionals. This account also offers insightful profiles of two women who successfully led these campaigns against seemingly impossible odds: Patt Gibbs and Tommie Hutto. Their compelling stories unfold against the backdrop of the turbulent 1960s and '70s. The most disturbing parts of the book describe misogynistic training schools and the job expectations enforced across the airline industry. These extremes (mandatory girdles and white gloves; routine public, supervised weigh-ins) were exceeded only by shockingly distasteful advertising campaigns touting stewardesses' presumed sexual availability. Travel journalist Wulfhart explains union wranglings, emerging legislation, and lengthy court battles within context, exposing the era's expectations regarding women's roles as sex objects, wives, and mothers in stark reality. This is an eye-opening chapter in the history of feminism and women's rights.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Travel writer Wulfhart (Off Menu) delivers a rousing history of how airline stewardesses in the 1960s and '70s "harness the energy of the women's movement to make radical change." At the time, Wulfhart explains, female flight attendants were banned from marrying or getting pregnant and aged out of the job in their early 30s. They also made five times less than pilots, had no retirement benefits, and had strict weight limits. Wulfhart spotlights a trio of women who spearheaded the fight: stewardess Patt Gibbs led the movement to break away from the male-dominated Transport Workers Union and form the independent Association of Professional Flight Attendants; her colleague, Tommie Hutto, helped launch the feminist group Stewardesses for Women's Rights. Sonia Pressman, a lawyer at the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, pushed the agency to find that the airlines were in violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act's prohibition on sex-based discrimination. Throughout, Wulfhart lucidly contextualizes the stewardesses' campaign within the larger feminist movement, and shares striking anecdotes of the insults they endured and the dedication it took to reform "the most sexist workplace in America." The result is an invigorating and inspiring story of women triumphing over discrimination. Agent: Lauren Sharp, Aevitas Creative Management. (Apr.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

Journalist Wulfhart (Off Menu) provides a well-researched account of the fight for gender equality in the jet age and the efforts to revoke discriminatory gender-based requirements for women flight attendants. In the 1960s, weight and age limits, girdle checks, and automatic dismissal for marrying or becoming pregnant were the norm for them, while their male colleagues labored under no such restrictions. In the 1960s, the Fair Labor Standards Board employed a lawyer who took discrimination based on sex seriously. This book focuses on a few big names as women union representatives tackle overt sexism and ridiculous work rules one by one in negotiations and legal cases. Narrator Bonnie Friel provides the perfect tone for this case study of women being underestimated. Her reading gives listeners a sense of the poise and tenacity required to make vast improvements to the system and conveys the narrative's emotional weight without being overly dramatic. VERDICT Wulfhart's book is particularly interesting in this time of renewed interest in union organizing. Recommended for public libraries.--Christa Van Herreweghe

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

A New York Times contributor examines how airline stewardesses stood up to their misogynist industry. When 19-year-old Patt Gibbs interviewed to become a stewardess in 1961, she had no fondness for the "high heels, makeup, [and] girdles" or expectations for "Barbie-slim[ness]" she associated with the job. What she did have was youth and status as an unmarried woman at a time when airlines pushed stewardesses into retirement once they reached their 30s or married. Wulfhart, a seasoned travel reporter who has also written for Travel + Leisure, Bon Appétit, and other publications, interweaves Gibbs' personal story with a larger narrative of how female flight attendants struggled to build long-term careers built on benefits and good wages rather than the promise of glamour and adventure. Like her future colleagues, Gibbs' professional journey began at "the charm farm," a stewardess college that trained women in emergency procedures, personal stylishness, and what the promotional material called "the gracious art of making people happy." Yet Gibbs, who was "coming into her own as a lesbian" though not "out," was disciplined almost immediately for violating sexist airline rules like not wearing white gloves at all times and riding a motorcycle to work. Drafted into a weak stewardess union, Gibbs went from reluctant member to one of its leading spokespeople. Over the next several years, she and her union colleagues struggled against dress codes that forced stewardesses into miniskirts, flimsy paper dresses, and go-go boots. Gibbs led the fight to join with the then-male dominated Transport Workers Union for expansion of flight attendant rights and then spearheaded a new, woman-led Association of Professional Flight Attendants in the 1970s when the TWU faltered in its promises to help the stewardesses reach their goals. Accompanied by occasional black-and-white images, this engaging narrative offers a fascinating look at how the intersection of the women's and labor movements helped a little-discussed, female-dominated profession achieve viability and respect. An informatively readable combination of cultural and feminist history. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.