Enter the world of sexual discrimination in the 1950s and 60s and the story of Barbara “Dusty” Roads, an American Airlines stewardess and flight attendant, union organizer, lobbyist to Congress, and civil rights trailblazer who sparked the Second Wave of the Women’s Liberation Movement before it had a name. Among her many achievements, Dusty played a pivotal role in fighting and overturning the airlines’ ban on marriage and the sex-based policies grounding or firing them at thirty-two or thirty-five, paving the way for gender equality in the airline industry.
Most people think Gloria Steinem or Betty Freidan started the Women’s Liberation Movement. However, many of these early pioneers believe Barbara “Dusty” Roads, an American Airlines stewardess and labor trailblazer paved the way for them in the 1950s.
Dusty may have stayed on the sidelines were it not for an American Airlines policy imposed on November 3, 1953, firing stewardesses from flying at age thirty-two for being too old to perform their job duties. The concern was they would no longer be the beautiful representatives of female pulchritude meant to attract the traveling businessman. These women could also be fired for getting married. American Airlines wanted their in-flight escorts to be beautiful, young, and single. Dusty was incensed and determined to change the regulations. She joined the union and became the Los Angeles Base Vice-Chair in charge of grievances and contract negotiations. In 1958, at thirty, she became her union’s lobbyist to Congress representing all domestic airlines except Pan Am and Delta. She testified at Congressional hearings and met Washington D.C. political insiders who supported her cause. Dusty helped write a bill to repeal the age rule that was dubbed “The Old Broads Bill” and failed with ridicule. Dusty now realized they weren’t just fighting airline industry management but national gender discrimination. Dusty Roads: How the Women’s Movement Took Flight, by Elaine Rock, couldn’t be timelier. With politicians trying to turn back the clock on women’s rights we are facing a new wave of a new women’s movement. Young women today do not realize the rights they enjoyed for the past fifty years were hard-won by women who stood up against the patriarchy. They do not know that women were once considered chattel and not so long ago could not own property or have credit cards in their names. Dusty Roads is a role model for women and the LGBTQ communities still fighting for equality and her story stands as an inspiration for the future of women..