"Wonderful sweet romance. Well
written by Jo Huddleston."
--D.L., a reader
Early spring 1952
University of Tennessee campus
At a time when the average woman got married at the age of twenty, and when opportunities outside the home were limited to teaching, nursing, and the secretarial pool, Joyce Williams wanted none of that. “I want to travel, to experience mobility, to be unchaperoned,” she said to a group of college seniors crowded into a drugstore booth.
“You might have to go to Mars to find all that,” Anne said.
“Yeah, especially the unchaperoned part,” Shirley added.
Flying was an adventure in and of itself, and the job of an airline stewardess beckoned Joyce.
“Being a stewardess would be my escape route from returning to a boring life as a teacher in my small hometown in upper East Tennessee. I’ll soon graduate from here with a major in Spanish, and I’m certain I’d be an asset to an airline offering international flights.”
“Hey, go for it,” Anne said. “What have you got to lose, even if they don’t hire you?”
“I read their requirements on a stewardess advertisement,” Amanda said from across the table. “They’re pretty strict—a stewardess has to be no younger than twenty and no older than twenty-seven, be no shorter than five feet two inches or taller than five-nine, and have a slender well-proportioned figure.”
“And I hear,” Sue said sitting next to Joyce, “a stewardess can weigh no more than one hundred forty pounds, agree to retire at the age of thirty-two, not married, have no children, and positively not be pregnant.”
Joyce sat straighter in the booth. “I meet all those requirements.”
A few days later Joyce applied for a stewardess position with Pan American World Airways and soon became one of about five percent of aspiring stewardesses selected. Shortly after college graduation, Pan Am flew her first class to New York for a six-week course of instruction.
Training for the coveted winged badge of a Pan Am international flight stewardess was rigorous and all-encompassing with the number one emphasis on safety. Because almost every flight was over water, crews had to be strong swimmers, and each trainee was dumped into the ocean and had to swim to a life raft.
While in training, Joyce had to walk like a lady at all times, so she readily embraced the mindset of “I’m a lady. I sit a certain way. I walk a certain way.” At graduation in the Pan Am building in New York City, the founder of the airlines pinned her wings on the left side of her uniform jacket. The occasion was more exhilarating than any other accomplishment she’d made in her twenty-one years.
She and Evelyn, her closest friend during training, received an assignment to Miami International Airport as their home base. Joyce earned far more than a teacher or secretary but soon learned her glamorous job and earnings came with a personal price tag: Pan Am girls were subject to a beauty inspection before each flight. A grooming supervisor might say, “Your hair’s too straggly” or “You’ve put on weight” and send you home until you fixed it. All stewardesses had to follow a long list of appearance requirements in their service manual.
When reporting for a flight, Joyce wore the tailored tunis blue two-piece Pan Am uniform over a crisp white blouse with its notched collar lying outside the jacket, a cloth cap reminiscent of military style, and wrist length white gloves. She carried a black leather rectangular shoulder handbag.
Joyce had sacrificed her ponytail for the short hairstyle required to go with the cap, the front of which ideally rested two fingers’ width above her eyebrows. Her compulsory underwear had to be a white bra, full slip, girdle, and sheer stockings worn in sensible, not-too-pointy black leather medium-heel shoes. Pan Am even listed her regulation make-up: Revlon's Persian Melon lipstick and matching nail polish.
Pan Am required their stewardesses to project an image of the perfect ladylike representative of the airlines: chic, quiet, elegant. Joyce determined she would do so and would look confident and feminine on those crazy long flights. Wearing the Pan Am iconic stewardess uniform not only made Joyce look the part, but she also experienced the part. Hers was not a job but a lifestyle.
She shopped for shoes in Rome, perfume in Paris, and pearls in Tokyo. Being a Pan Am stewardess fulfilled her spirit of adventure. Soon, flying settled in her bones. She’d never lose the wanderlust that had drawn her away from the small town of Winston, Tennessee in the first place.
Obeying Pan Am’s strict rules was a small price for Joyce to pay for the freedom to travel abroad, a relatively rare experience for most people. She wouldn’t trade places with anyone...
Copyright 2018 Jo Huddleston