‘‘Stewardesses are America’s vestal virgins,’’ remarked a male pas-
senger traveling on United Airlines in 1966. The comment cap-
tured how firmly lodged female flight attendants—‘‘stewardesses’’
until the 1970s—were in the popular imagination of the mid-twentieth-
century United States. These young, single, white women’s good looks
and unusual occupation prompted reverence, envy, and desire. Since
1930, when the first stewardesses took flight, airline marketing and em-
ployment policies succeeded brilliantly in creating a select corps of air-
borne ‘‘Glamor Girls,’’ as Life Magazine called them in 1958, to help
sell seats. What airlines had not counted on, however, was that lurk-
ing among the glamour girls were some militant union organizers and
feminists. By the 1970s, when skimpy uniforms, airline slogans like ‘‘I’m
Cheryl—Fly Me,’’ and pulp novels like The Fly Girls lent stewardesses a
more provocative aura, flight attendants emerged as among the most
outspoken and successful workplace feminists.∞
Stewardesses’ historic mystique hardly suggests a penchant for union
activism or feminism. But on closer inspection, the history of flight
attendants in the United States is a story in which glamorization and
organization, and femininity and feminism, uniquely shaped the e√orts
of a cultural elite among working women to claim greater respect in an
archetypal ‘‘women’s job.’’ Stewardesses working in the two decades after
the Second World War relished their celebrated popular identity, but also
unionized. They were joined by the small number of men who worked
alongside them as stewards and pursers, but whose presence rarely regis-
tered in popular ideals or airline marketing until the 1970s. Postwar flight
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