Tag Archives: transportation

Northwest Airlines in Minneapolis

In the early years of airline flights, flight costs were prohibitively expensive for many Americans. In order to cater to wealthy customers, airlines wanted to create an environment where people felt lavished, complete with beautiful female attendants. It was after World War II, when Northwest Airlines, based out of Minneapolis, began flights to Asia over the Pacific that “a new era at the airline was ushered in,” and rigid expectations were placed on their flight attendants. Anne Billingsley Kerr, who worked for the airline from 1956 to 1960, when she was forced to retire because of her marriage, remembered:

“Back in the Dark Ages, the requirements were you had to be 21, not over 31, you had to be between 5’4” and 5’8”, you had to have weight in proportion to height, we were weighed periodically to be sure. We had to have 20/20 vision and there had to be no obvious flaws. I even hate to say it, but that was the way that it was.”

Cheryl Ullyot, who donated her stewardess uniforms to Hennepin History Museum, was 20 years old when Northwest Airlines, then called “Northwest Orient Airlines,” hired her in 1969. Like Kerr, Ullyot reminisced about the many regulations for stewardesses’ appearances, writing, “A chip in my nail polish or a run in my nylons meant a dock in pay.” They were expected to wear skirts and high heels at all times for a ladylike appearance.

There were good and bad aspects of being a stewardess. It was a chance to see the world and to meet exciting passengers aboard. “It was a glamorous job,” said Ullyot, “I loved going to work because I never knew whom I might meet.” Fay Kulenkamp, who worked with Northwest from 1968 to 2004, was able to help her parents travel despite the expensive prices of flights. Kulenkamp said, “I thought it would be really nice for my parents to use my passes and take some trips that they ordinarily would not be able to afford.” My aunt, Pam Gunderson, formerly Fredrickson, remembers meeting comedian Bob Hope and actor Georgie Jessel during her time as a flight attendant. But memorable passengers were not always celebrities. “I started at NWA in 1969 during the war in Vietnam and had many soldiers on flights,” Pam wrote, saying:

“One young man had lost both legs in the war and was going home to see his fiancé. I asked him if he wanted a wheelchair to deplane, but he said he wanted his fiancé to see the whole truth right away. I had to duck into the cockpit because I couldn’t watch him struggle. I have often wondered what became of him and the others who flew home with us.”

In the end, the benefits of being a flight attendant were not enough to overshadow the discrimination women faced at Northwest and other airlines. My aunt Pam had left Northwest Airlines by the time of the Laffey v. Northwest lawsuit in 1973. According to Kathleen Barry, in her book Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants, the lawsuit was “the broadest yet against airline bias.” The case detailed how women were kept from being promoted, received unequal benefits, and of course, the many restrictions placed on acceptable age and appearance. Even the title “stewardess,” it seems, was one that suggested women’s jobs were somehow different than male “flight service attendants.”

Northwest Airlines survived the Laffey case, and eventually merged with Delta in 2010. Today, while women still struggle to receive equal pay at jobs all across the country, we still regard much of the treatment of early female flight attendants as unfair and extreme. While being a stewardess was considered to be a glamorous job in the eyes of some, glamor did not outweigh the changes that needed to be made.

Written by HHM intern Caitlin Crowley. Caitlin is a current Augsburg student where she is majoring in history with a Medieval History minor. She comes to HHM through the Minnesota Historical Society’s ACTC extern program.

NWA jacket.jpg

Sources

Cheryl Ullyot, “Random thoughts,” Hennepin History, Winter 2006, 3.

Kathleen Barry, Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants, Duke University Press, 2007, 170.

“Lost Twin Cities,” TPT Documentaries video, 3 August 2014, http://video.tpt.org/video/2365436746/.

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From the Collection: Soapbox Derby Car

This Soap Box Derby car is called “Tinker Toy,” and was the winning Soap Box Derby car in 1959. It went on to compete in the All American Soap Box Derby in Akron, Ohio. The car was built by the Minneapolis Jaycees, which is a youth engagement and leadership organization founded in 1934 and still active today.

derby-car-detail-2

The Minneapolis Jaycees are a group of young people, ages 16-40, committed to becoming stronger leaders by making positive change in their community through social action, personal growth, networking, and fellowship.

Soap Box Derby, which is a racing program involving unpowered, handmade cars, officially began in the United States in 1934.  At first a boys-only sport, girls were allowed to compete starting in 1971.  Historically, derby cars were made of a variety of materials, including soap or orange crates, sheet tin, and baby-buggy wheels.  Today, they are made of streamlined materials such as aluminum and fiberglass, and can reach speeds upwards of 30 miles per hour!

The first record of a soap box derby competition in the Twin Cities is in 1936 in St. Paul’s Highland Park. The prizes for first place a few years later included a $50 wristwatch, suit of clothes, gold medal, and an all-expenses paid trip to Akron, Ohio to compete in the national finals.

Photo of the Week: Street Scene, c. 1925

This street scene, photographed circa 1925, was taken on 6th Street looking towards Nicollet Avenue (now Nicollet Mall) in downtown Minneapolis. Visible at the intersection is the corner of the Donaldson’s Department Store’s famous Glass Block building.

One of the things that struck our eye are the modes of transportation visible in this photograph. We have a new exhibition opening at Hennepin History Museum this week: the Cycling Museum of Minnesota has curated the ever-fascinating High Wheels! exhibition looking at biking in 19th century Minneapolis. This photograph post-dates the high wheels, but if you look closely you’ll see there’s foot, car, streetcar, and yes, bicycle traffic.

Photo of the Week: Greyhound Station

If you’ve been in downtown Minneapolis recently, say anytime after 1970, you likely recognize this iconic building as the music club First Avenue. From its opening in 1937 until 1968, however, this art deco building, located on the corner of First Avenue and 7th Street, was home to the Northland-Greyhound bus station. The station relocated in 1968, and a year later the building was converted into a music venue. First called the Depot, then Sam’s, the building became First Avenue in 1981, a name it has retained ever since.