The Pan Am Podcast

Episode 41: The Stewardess Labor Movement of the 1960s and 1970s

September 28, 2023 Pan Am Museum Foundation Season 3 Episode 41
The Pan Am Podcast
Episode 41: The Stewardess Labor Movement of the 1960s and 1970s
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Show Notes

In this episode we are joined by Nell McShane Wulfhart, author of the book The Great Stewardess Rebellion: How Women Launched a Workplace Revolution at 30,000 Feet.

Nell is a frequent contributor to the New York Times travel section and wrote the column “Carry On” from 2016 to 2019. She has written for Travel + Leisure, Bon Appétit, Condé Nast Traveler, The Wall Street Journal Magazine, and T Magazine. She is also the author of the Audible Original Off Menu.

Her recent work, The Great Stewardess Rebellion: How Women Launched a Workplace Revolution at 30,000 Feet, is a book about how as travel in the jet age became more and more popular in the 1960s, women from across America applied for jobs as stewardesses.

They were drawn to the promise of glamour, the chance to travel, and as an alternative to traditional occupations for women of this time period like homemaking, nursing, and teaching. But as the number of stewardesses grew, so did their suspicion that the job was not as picture-perfect as the ads would have them believe, including some of their supervisors spying on their personal lives (thankfully this was not the practice of Pan Am or TWA). 

These women had to adhere to strict weight limits at all times. If they gained a few extra pounds, they were suspended from work. For many airlines, stewardesses couldn’t marry or have children or risk losing their employment. Requirements for hair styles and makeup had to be followed and was strictly enforced and girdles were mandatory at all times. It was also common for most domestic airlines that stewardesses had to resign by age 32.

In the latter half of the 1960s, stewardesses began to push back against their employers creating an employment movement that changed the industry. Nell Mchane Wulfhart crafts a rousing narrative of female empowerment, the paradigm-shifting 1960s and 1970s, the labor movement, and the cadre of gutsy women who fought for their rights and won. 

Gloria Steinem said of Nell’s book, “the true story of women who stood up to huge corporations and won, creating momentous change for all working women.”

The Pan Am Museum’s high school intern Michael Gentner assisted with this interview as guest co-host. 

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A very special thanks to Mr. Adam Aron, Chairman and CEO of AMC and president of the Pan Am Historical Foundation and Pan Am Brands for their continued and unwavering support!