Women in Transportation History: Ellen Church, First Female Flight Attendant

Ellen Church (1904-1965) was the first female flight attendant. The Iowa-born Church was a registered nurse and she also had a pilot’s license. While Boeing Air Transport (predecessor to United Airlines) would not give her a job as a pilot, it did hire her to serve as a flight attendant for the company’s planes. Church made her public debut in this role on May 15, 1930, while on board a Boeing 80A biplane flying from the San Francisco area to Chicago.

Along with waiting on and serving passengers, Church also had to perform a variety of other duties. These duties included cleaning the planes, loading baggage, and selling tickets. Church became a trailblazer in her aviation career, with a number of other airlines soon following Boeing Air Transport’s example and recruiting their own female flight attendants.

Unfortunately for Church, her airborne career came to an end after only 18 months when she was injured in an automobile accident. Over time, Church recovered from those injuries sufficiently to resume medical work. During World War II, she served as a flight nurse in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps and was awarded an Air Medal.

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