09 August 2011

The "Twitter" of the 1940s

I was recently helping my mom sort through some old memorabilia.  After completing nursing school she saw an announcement that American Airlines wanted registered nurses (of a certain height and weight, of course) to be their stewardesses.  In 1941 she was a member of their graduating class (fifth from the left in the photo above).

Her assigned route was Chicago-to-New-York and back in a DC-3.  In those days the stewardesses were treated "like royalty," being housed at the Palmer House in Chicago and I think the Plaza in New York.  Limousines transported them between their hotels and the airport.

Non-stop flights were well in the future.  Chicago-to-New York meant a first leg from Chicago to Fort Wayne, Indiana, followed by stops in Ohio and Pennsylvania.  Stewardesses had time to actually cook dinner for the 21 passengers, who had time to read entire books.  The pilot communicated with the passengers using this form:
He would fill in the data (so they would know when to look down to see notable sights), call the stewardess forward and hand it to her.  She would give it to the forwardmost passenger, and then as the form says "Please pass this report to another passenger or ask the stewardess to do so."

My mom saved a couple of these - notably this one -
- and this one:
One supposes that there must have been a buzz of conversation as the notes were passed back row-by-row through the plane, and that these pencilled notes from the pilot must have had a 9/11-type impact on airline passengers of that era.

17 comments:

  1. Totally fascinating! Thank you for sharing this one. Have you thought about sending these images to Letters of Note?

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  2. I hadn't thought about it, Fletcher, but I've sent him the link now.

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  3. Very very fascinating, felt a little spine tingle reading the pilot notes. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  4. Write some more about being a flight attendant in the 40s. So interesting!

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  5. very interesting, although I would argue that morose code was the original twitter :)

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  6. Stan, if your mother or you ever want a permanent home for the notes, I'm sure the C.B. Smith museum in Dallas would love to have them.

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  7. This is great! Thanks for posting. One small correction -- this was not the "first" class of stewardesses for AA. (Maybe it was the first for Chicago?) I'm not sure when the first was, but I think mid-30s. My grandmother started as a stewardess in 1938. She donated a lot of her old memorabilia to the AA museum in Dallas.

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  8. Thank you, Cathy and anon. Re the latter comment, I'm sure you're right, and I've adjusted the text accordingly.

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  9. Correction to my previous comment: it's the C.R. Smith museum, not C.B. Smith, in Dallas. Big oops.

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  10. Best TIWKIYDBI in many weeks. That's why I like your blog the most!

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  11. Stan, you look just like your mom!

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  12. "morose code" may be the best typo ever.

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  13. OK, I'll say it since no one else will - your mom was a babe = schwang.

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  14. Absolutely fascinating.

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  15. I was told by older relatives that if someone said a woman was a stewardess, it was automatically known that she was very sharp and very attractive.

    I was touring the Air and Space Museum in DC earlier this year and your mother's items would fit quite well among the exhibits.

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  16. My mother, Celia Pitts Yarbrough, worked as executive secretary to a Mr. T. Wilbanks for AA in Nashville in the 40's - they closed down the hub and moved it to Dallas. Looking for images for book project from Nashville early AA years-would they have those at C.R. Smith Museum? Or some other museum? Any leads?

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  17. Lynn, this post is old enough that it won't get many more views. Perhaps you could write to the museum and ask them your question directly.

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