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White gloves and straight seams: Flying in the 50s

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Posted: Wednesday, June 27, 2012 5:00 am

Once upon a time, air travel was fun and an extra special way to get to a destination. Gentlemen travelers wore suits, ladies gussied up in dresses or suits, with hats and gloves as well. For young ladies with their eyes on the skies, being a stewardess was a glamorous, and well paying job.

And back in 1957, when Woodrun resident Bobbie Gaspich Belch took to the skies, flight attendants were only young ladies. No men or middle aged or senior citizens as is so common to see in flight crews these days.

Belch grew up in New Jersey and has vivid memories of her dad taking her and her brothers out to Newark airport to watch the planes take off and land. “I must have been about 7 or 8 years old and I remember seeing those pretty girls in their uniforms and asking who they were,” she says. When her dad explained about the stewardesses, she knew that’s what she wanted to do. Either that or a nurse.

Her parents had different ideas, encouraging her to take secretarial training so she’d always be able to have a job, but the glamour of the skies kept calling. She attended Grace Downs Airline School in New York and was determined to fly. Among the job interviews that the school arranged for graduates, Belch interviewed at Eastern Airline. As part of that interview she was asked to pull her skirt above the knee so the interviewer could see what her legs looked like.

That, and the first section of Belch’s 1957 Stewardess Manual for National Airlines, where she spent the next two years, show that looks and a friendly personality had a lot more to do with being a stewardess than how well she would react in a critical situation.

Among the criteria for stewardesses, listed on page one are these: U.S. citizenship; between ages 21 and 26 (birth certificate required); height 5’2’’ - 5’6”; weight 105-125 “properly proportioned and not to exceed 125 during employment;” single or divorced (not separated and no dependents); high moral standards; two years of college or equivalent business background, and speaking knowledge of Spanish desirable but not required. One of Miami-based National Airline’s major routes was to the then still free Havana, Cuba.

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