Career Adventures in Books

  The old book is missing its dust jacket [pictured], its once teal green cover faded around the edges and spine. Its pages, aged to the browning golden shade of the fallen leaves outside my window, offer a faint scent like aged chocolate. The title Jane, Stewardess of the Air Lines caught my eye and I brought it up from the basement for an evening read.
          Author Ruthe S. Wheeler laced her 1934 fictional account of America’s first women flight attendants with appealing characters and enough crises to keep young readers breathless. It was the factual details that caught my attention:
• The first airline stewardesses were all registered nurses.
• The tri-motor biplane had room for 14 passengers seated in “comfortable reclining chairs, very much like those in a railroad coach.”
• Travellers were given a packet of cotton to stuff in their ears and gum to chew during takeoff.
• Stewardesses prepared sandwiches, snacks, and beverages (coffee, tea, hot chocolate) in a kitchen at the airfield and carried them onboard to be served to passengers.
• Stewardesses were paid $125 per month and furnished with uniforms, including hat, shoes and stockings.
          The story is based on historic facts. According to Michael Grace in an article for Cruising the Past, Ellen Church, a registered nurse who had taken flying lessons, became the first airline stewardess when she joined Boeing Air Transport in 1930. Eight nurses were hired and trained for a three-month trial period. On May 15, 1930, Ms. Church made the first stewardess-attended flight from Oakland to Chicago in a Boeing tri-motor.
          Women hired for these positions, in addition to being nurses, were between the ages of 20 and 26, no taller than 5’ 4” and weighed no more than 118 pounds. They also had to be single, “a rule that lasted for most airlines into the 1960s.”
          Jane, Stewardess of the Air Lines was one of many career books for girls. View an exhibit on Girls’ Series Books Rediscovered: Nancy Drew and Friends . Ruthe Wheeler also wrote: Helen in The Editor’s Chair, Janet Hardy in Radio City, and Janet Hardy in Hollywood.

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  1. Right now I am reading Janet Hardy in Hollywood, which ends with a sort of promise that a sequel will come, still in Hollywood, but I can’t find any sequel. It’s also by Ruthe S. Wheeler. I wonder if Wheeler was a pen name; I can’t find out anything about the author. Early career books for girls are one of my indulgences. Thank you for writing about the accuracy of Wheeler’s research, it makes these books all the more interesting to me.


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