On May 15, 1930, an Iowa woman and registered nurse, Ellen Church from Cresco, Iowa, became one of the country’s first flight attendants when she began working the BAT (Boeing Air Transport) Model 80A headed to San Francisco. Through her example, Church was a pioneer in opening the world of aviation to women.

Church’s high flying career as a flight attendant, however, came to an abrupt halt some 18 months after she began due to injuries suffered following an auto accident.

Years after her accident, Church took to the skies once again and this time as a captain in the Army Nurse Corps during World War II. In recognition of her wartime heroics, she was granted the Air Medal.

More on Church…

Ellen Church was born on September 22, 1904 in Cresco, Iowa. After graduating from Cresco High School, she studied nursing and worked in a San Francisco hospital.  Combining her passion of flying with medicine, Church became a pilot and a registered nurse.

In 1930, Steve Stimpson, the manager of the San Francisco office of Boeing Air Transport (BAT) hired Church as head stewardess, where she soon recruited seven stewardesses (otherwise known as “sky girls”) to serve for a three-month trial period.

Church became the first stewardess to fly (though not the first flight attendant) when on May 15, 1930, she flew on a Boeing 80A from Oakland/San Francisco to Chicago.

An injury resulting from an automobile accident brought an abrupt end to Church’s career. However, she continued onward with her education and obtained a bachelor’s degree in nursing education from the University of Minnesota and resumed nursing.

In 1936, she was employed as a supervisor of pediatrics at Milwaukee County Hospital. With the coming of World War II, Church again stepped up to serve as a captain and flight nurse in the Army Nurse Corps. Church received the Air Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with seven bronze service stars, the American Theatre Campaign Medal, and the Victory Medal.

She eventually moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, and was sought as director of nursing at Union Hospital and later, an administrator.

In 1964, Church wed Leonard Briggs Marshall, president of the Terre Haute First National Bank.

She was killed in a horseback riding accident in 1965 at the age of 60.

Interesting fact: The 1930 requirements for stewardesses: must be registered nurses, single, younger than 25 years old; weigh less than 115 pounds; and stand less than 5 feet, 4 inches tall.

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