Frankie Housley

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Frankie Housley
Born (1926-10-12)October 12, 1926
Knoxville, Tennessee
Died January 14, 1951(1951-01-14) (aged 24)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Cause of death plane crash
Resting place Knoxville, Tennessee
Occupation Flight attendant
Employer National Airlines
Known for heroism after plane crash

Mary Frances "Frankie" Housley (October 12, 1926 – January 14, 1951) was the lone flight attendant on National Airlines Flight 83, which crashed after landing at Philadelphia International Airport on January 14, 1951.[1] She led 10 passengers to safety, then returned to the burning cabin to save an infant. She died in the attempt and was later found holding the four-month-old baby in her arms. The story of her courage made national headlines, including an item in Time magazine.[2] One passenger called her a "real hero". A congressman labeled her the bravest American in history.[3]

Early life[edit]

Frankie Housley was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, the daughter of John H. Housley and Fannie Mayer Housley.[1] She grew up in Fountain City and attended Central High School, where she was a member of the Bowling Club, Science Club, and Glee Club, and a member of the honor society. She attended the University of Tennessee for one year but left to get married. She was soon divorced, then worked as an office assistant for doctors in Jacksonville, Florida. In 1950, she applied for a job as a flight attendant, and was hired the next day.

The crash[edit]

At 2:13pm, January 14, 1951, National's Flight 83, a DC-4, landed in Philadelphia from Newark, New Jersey, en route to Norfolk, Virginia.[3] It skidded off the icy runway, through a fence, and into a ditch. The left wing broke off, rupturing the gasoline tanks, and the plane caught fire. Housley opened the emergency door and saw the ground eight feet below. Returning to the cabin, she helped passengers release their seat belts, guided them to the door and gave a gentle shove to those who were hesitant to jump. After saving 10 passengers, she returned to the cabin to try to rescue a baby. After the fire was extinguished, the bodies of five women and two infants were found. One of the women was Frankie Housley with a four-month old infant in her arms.[4]


National Airlines installed a plaque in Housley's honor at Variety Children's Hospital in Miami.[5] There is a memorial to her in front of the Engine 78 firehouse at Philadelphia International Airport.[6] Entertainer Eddie Cantor performed a benefit show in Jacksonville to raise money for a new wing of the Hope Haven Hospital for Crippled Children to be named in Housley's honor. The Knoxville chapter of the Shriners dedicated a room in the Crippled Children’s Hospital to Frankie Housley. Fifteen years later, Reader's Digest published A Girl Named Frankie; its author, MacKinlay Kantor, called her "the Bravest Woman In America."[3]


  1. ^ a b J.C. (Jim) Tumblin. "Fountain Citians Who Made A Difference". Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  2. ^ "Take Your Time". Time. Jan 22, 1951. Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  3. ^ a b c Jack Neely. "The Bravest Woman in America". Metro Pulse. Archived from the original on 2008-01-27. Retrieved 2008-01-24. 
  4. ^ Frankie Housley, and some that survived that 1951 plane crash
  5. ^ "Air Line Plans Memorial To Stewardess". Reading Eagle. AP. January 27, 1951. p. 16. 
  6. ^ Bykofsky, Stu (August 12, 2013). "Philadelphia's forgotten airline heroine needs a better memorial". Philadelphia Inquirer.