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The Great Stewardess Rebellion: How Women Launched a Workplace Revolution at 30,000 Feet (Paperback)
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"The true story of women who stood up to huge corporations and won, creating momentous change for all working women.” --Gloria Steinem, co-founder of Ms. magazine
As flying boomed in the 1960s, women from across America applied for jobs as stewardesses. They were drawn to the promise of glamour, the chance to travel, and an alternative to traditional occupations like homemaking, nursing, and teaching.
But as the number of “stews” grew, so did their suspicion that the job was not as picture-perfect as the ads would have them believe. “Sky girls” had to adhere to strict weight limits at all times; gain a few extra pounds and they’d be suspended from work. They couldn’t marry or have children; their makeup, hair, and teeth had to be just so. Girdles were mandatory on the clock. And, most important, stewardesses had to resign at 32.
Eventually the stewardesses began to push back and it’s thanks in part to their trailblazing efforts that working women have gotten closer to workplace equality today. Nell McShane Wulfhart crafts a rousing narrative of female empowerment, the paradigm-shifting ’60s and ’70s, the labor movement, and the cadre of gutsy women who fought for their rights—and won.
About the Author
NELL MCSHANE WULFHART is a frequent contributor to the New York Times travel section and wrote the column "Carry On" from 2016-2019. She has written for Travel + Leisure, Bon Appétit, Condé Nast Traveler, The Wall Street Journal Magazine, and T Magazine. She is the author of the Audible Original Off Menu.
Named a Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post • Longlisted for PEN America's John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction
"I've spent so much of my life on the road that stewardesses have always been my friends in the sky. Now I am glad to see The Great Stewardess Rebellion, … the true story of women who stood up to huge corporations and won, creating momentous change for all working women.”
--Gloria Steinem, co-founder of Ms. magazine
“A meticulously detailed history. . . Rollicking. . . Shocking, infuriating and excruciating. . . [Wulfhart’s] account credits [the stewardesses] as having played a pioneering role in fighting sex discrimination, and she tells the story well. . . It is dramatic, invigorating and instructive as a textbook example of the courage, ingenuity and persistence it takes to effect such progress.”
--The New York Times Book Review
“Wulfhart brings a treasure trove of vintage ads and relatable anecdotes to The Great Stewardess Rebellion. . . Wulfhart, through her prodigious research, secures a place for the women who endured all manner of indignities to forge a better future for those who put their lives on the line every day in a job once regarded as frivolous.”
--The Washington Post
“Wulfhart’s exhilarating account describes how a number of stewardesses, galvanized by the women’s movement, took on the airlines and won. . . Wulfhart is a vivid storyteller who writes with energy and style, and the experiences of Patt and Tommie, passionately pushing both the airline and the union to catch up with the changing times, lend her account poignancy.”
--The Wall Street Journal
“An astonishing exposé of [flight attendants’] long struggle for respect and equality. . . This largely under-chronicled aspect of recent women’s history is a valuable reminder of how far women have come. . . [A] relevant and urgent read.”
“Engaging. . . The Great Stewardess Rebellion recount[s] journeys towards self-respect and empowerment. [It’s] a trip worth taking.”
“The Great Stewardess Rebellion has it all: ’60s glam, sharp and brave heroines, and one of the most dramatic and consequential feminist battles in American history. A grippingly told and unforgettable story.”
--Abbott Kahler, author of The Ghosts of Eden Park
"Vivid, inspiring and full of twists, The Great Stewardess Rebellion reveals how a pair of young women helped build a mighty union and transformed an industry forever. Wulfhart has unearthed a story of rare power, and she tells it with passion and skill."
--Jason Fagone, author of The Woman Who Smashed Codes
" Wulfhart's lively labor history chronicles a recent past that can feel simultaneously a million miles away and all too contemporary."
--Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad
" Nell McShane Wulfhart reconstructs the long-lost Era of the Stewardess: what she meant to the airlines, how she defined the female ideal in America, and then how she broke the mold—and helped change the world for everyone on the ground."
--Keith O'Brien, author of Fly Girls
"The Great Stewardess Rebellion should be required reading for anyone entering the modern job market--to remind them how the workplace used to be, and to honor the heroic people who stepped up and made progress possible. A fascinating, important read."
--Lisa Napoli, author of Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie
“McShane Wulfhart’s engaging chronicle of the labor movement launched by U.S. airline stewardesses who flew the not-so-friendly skies in the 1960s and ’70s has an eye-opening anecdote on every page; even the union negotiations are entertaining and informative. . . [The Great Stewardess Rebellion] demonstrates how the stewardesses’ labor fight affected the state of modern American employment and helped enshrine many of the workplace rights women have today. Recommended for readers of women’s history and histories of the airline industry, and anyone looking for an engaging and entertaining read.”
--Library Journal, (starred review)
“Engaging . . . Insightful . . . Compelling . . . Wulfhart explains union wranglings, emerging legislation, and lengthy court battles within context, exposing the era's expectations regarding women's roles as sex objects, wives, and mothers in stark reality. This is an eye-opening chapter in the history of feminism and women's rights.”
“A rousing history. . . Wulfhart lucidly contextualizes the stewardesses’ campaign within the larger feminist movement, and shares striking anecdotes of the insults they endured and the dedication it took to reform ‘the most sexist workplace in America.’ The result is an invigorating and inspiring story of women triumphing over discrimination.”
“Offer[s] insight into the sexism women faced in the early decades of commercial flight, as seen through the eyes of the women who lived it. . . With stylish flair, The Great Stewardess Rebellion explores the nuances of these spirited women and the sexism they battled.”
“Interweaves [personal stories] with a larger narrative of how female flight attendants struggled to build long-term careers built on benefits and good wages rather than the promise of glamour and adventure. . . This engaging narrative offers a fascinating look at how the intersection of the women’s and labor movements helped a little-discussed, female-dominated profession achieve viability and respect. An informatively readable combination of cultural and feminist history.”
"A gripping and exciting read...Wulfhart captures the urgency of the flight attendant’s liberation with grace...This book is a satisfying victory for anyone who has ever been put in a box and has relished proving them all wrong."
"Wulfhart follows a few key players in this fight...Their inspiring tales of grit and guts illuminate a dark space in aviation."
"Vividly described...The Great Stewardess Rebellion is an exciting read and provides a timely reminder of how far women have traveled from the days of 'mad men' and advertisements that showcased slogans such as: 'Fly Me. I’m Cheryl.'"
--New York Labor History Association
"Put aside any preconceived notions you might have about flight attendants. Wulfhart's uniformed women battled the airlines' sexist policies and lurid advertising, forging a feminist revolution along the way."
--Paulina Bren, author of The Barbizon
"An entertaining page turner and a powerful story of personal and political transformation."
--Lynn Povich, author of The Good Girls Revolt
"A riveting, tour de force story of women's fight for justice on the job. Wulfhart tells an incredible story of workplace justice and the women who made it.”
--Erik Loomis, author of A History of America in Ten Strikes
“An extraordinary herstory--I was in tears. A powerful story of flight attendants at American Airlines refusing to allow men to define them.”
--Sara Nelson, International President, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO
"Nell McShane Wulfhart brings us face to face with the atrocious status quo that stewardesses fought to overturn. Wulfhart chronicles the movement’s expansion in sparkling detail and delivers uncommon insight into the personal dynamics of social movements. Read this book!"
--Priscilla Murolo, co-author of From the Folks Who Brought You the Weekend