Ellen Church: America's First Stewardess

Ellen Church (1904-1965) of Cresco, Iowa, became the nation's first stewardess. While working as a registered nurse in San Francisco, Church was also learning to fly. The desire to combine her two loves led her to meet with Steve Stimpson, traffic manager for Boeing Air Transport (predecessor to United Air Lines). Stimpson thought it would be a good idea to have a nurse on board for emergencies.

Given a 90-day trial period, Church was named chief stewardess and hired seven other nurses and helped design the uniforms. The women began working on May 15, 1930, and were paid $125 per month for 100 hours of flying.

Church remained chief stewardess for 18 months and then returned to her nursing career after being injured in an auto accident. She stated that the stewardess experiment survived only because women regarded it as a worthwhile service that demanded their best efforts.

In December 1942, she took to the air again-this time as a captain in the Army Nurse Corps, Air Evacuation Service. For distinguished work in North Africa, Sicily, England and France, she was presented with the Air Medal.


Ellen Church
Ellen Church
United Airlines' "Sky Girls"


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As a much-decorated air corps nurse in WW II, she brought comfort and relief to thousands of American soldiers who were wounded on the battlefields of Europe. And as a peacetime nursing instructor and hospital administrator, she guided vast numbers of young women along the path once trod by another humanitarian, Florence Nightingale.

Church later became a nursing director at Terre Haute Union Hospital and, subsequently, she became a hospital administrator. Remaining active after her retirement form Union Hospital, she took up horseback riding and died from a riding accident in 1965.

United Airlines contributed $25,000 to Union Hospital in the memory of Ellen Church Marshall.

Humanitarian, war heroine, and aviation pioneer, Ellen Church dedicated her indomitable spirit to the service of mankind. As the world's first airline stewardess, she created a new and exciting profession for young girls of the twentieth century.

Parts of this article were excerpted from Iowa Takes to the Air by Ann Holtgren Pellegreno