Ellen Church

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Ellen Church
Captain Ellen Church.jpg
Born(1904-09-22)September 22, 1904
DiedAugust 22, 1965(1965-08-22) (aged 60)
EducationBachelor's degree of nursing education, University of Minnesota
OccupationFlight attendant
EmployerBoeing Air Transport (Predecessor of United Airlines)
Known forFirst female flight attendant

Ellen Church (September 22, 1904 – August 22, 1965) was the first female flight attendant.[1]


Church was born in Cresco, Iowa. After graduating from Cresco High School, Church studied nursing and worked in a San Francisco hospital.[2] She was a pilot and a registered nurse. Steve Stimpson, the manager of the San Francisco office of Boeing Air Transport (BAT), would not hire her as a pilot, but did pass along her suggestion to put nurses on board airplanes to calm the public's fear of flying.[2] In 1930, BAT hired Church as head stewardess, and she recruited seven others for a three-month trial period.[2]

The stewardesses, or "sky girls" as BAT called them,[1][3] had to be registered nurses, "single, younger than 25 years old; weigh less than 115 pounds [52 kg]; and stand less than 5 feet, 4 inches tall [1.63 m]".[1] In addition to attending to the passengers, they were expected to, when necessary, help with hauling luggage, fueling and assisting pilots to push the aircraft into hangars.[3] However, the salary was good: $125 a month.[1][2]

Church became the first stewardess to fly (though not the first flight attendant, as German Heinrich Kubis had preceded her in 1912). On May 15, 1930, she embarked on a Boeing 80A for a 20-hour flight from Oakland/San Francisco to Chicago with 13 stops and 14 passengers.[4] According to one source, the pilot was another aviation pioneer, Elrey Borge Jeppesen.[5]

The innovation was a resounding success - the other airlines followed BAT's example over the next few years - but an injury from an automobile accident ended her career after 18 months.

She obtained a bachelor's degree in nursing education from the University of Minnesota and resumed nursing.[1][6] In 1936, she became supervisor of pediatrics at Milwaukee County Hospital.[6] During World War II, Church served in the Army Nurse Corps as a captain and flight nurse and earned an Air Medal.[1] She moved to Terre Haute, Indiana, where she became director of nursing and later an administrator at Union Hospital.[6]

In 1964, she married Leonard Briggs Marshall, president of the Terre Haute First National Bank.[4][6] A horse riding accident ended her life in 1965.[4][6]


Cresco's municipal airport was named Ellen Church Field (KCJJ) in her honor.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Ellen Church". PBS. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d "Ellen Church: The Flying Nurse". Iowa Public Television. Archived from the original on February 7, 2012. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Tony Long (May 15, 2008). "May 15, 1930: The Skies Get a Little Bit Friendlier". Wired magazine. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c Shane Nolan (April 30, 2010). "United Airlines Celebrates 80 Years Of The Flight Attendant Profession". Aviation Online Magazine. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  5. ^ Cary Baird (February 2007). "New Book Marks Jeppesen's 100th Birthday". Archived from the original on June 27, 2012. Retrieved August 25, 2012.
  6. ^ a b c d e "Ellen (Marshall) Church". Cresco website (crespochamber.com). Retrieved August 25, 2012.[permanent dead link]

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