Dusty Roads: How the Women’s Movement Took Flight

“Dusty Roads stood up for an entire class of women workers – then known as stewardesses – who were supposed to work hard while being decorative and then be cast aside at 32. In so doing, she also transformed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission into the first agency that protected women of all races; indeed, the first that addressed race as well as sex. Women and men need her example as a light on the path ahead.” – Gloria Steinem

How would you respond if, after being hired for your dream job at age twenty-two, you were told by your company that you would be fired at age thirty-two because you’ll be too old by then to perform your job duties? In 1953, American Airlines created that rule, mandating the firing of stewardesses at age thirty-two presumably because they would be too old to fly by then. Like marriage, weight and other appearance restrictions, this rule soon became an industry-wide regulation and many stewardesses lived in fear of losing their jobs.

Barbara Dusty Roads, hired as an American Airlines stewardess in 1950, was retroactively protected from dismissal, but nevertheless felt the termination rule was just as arbitrary and sexist as other discriminatory regulations. After all, no male steward or commercial pilot ever had the same demands made upon their employment. Since she couldn’t be fired for growing old, she felt she had nothing to lose by fighting the rule and her Midwestern sense of fair play propelled her into action on behalf of her colleagues. 

Dusty became an ALSSA (Airline Stewards and Stewardesses Association) union vice-chairman and negotiator at the Los Angeles base and her union’s national lobbyist to Washington, D. C. Hers was the most powerful voice for her sisterhood of stewardesses in an industry dominated by male executives and pilots. Her charismatic leadership and determination succeeded in inspiring stewardesses to fight and demonstrate for their civil rights and win. 

PBS MAKERS 2012 Documentary “100 Women Who Make America” Inteview:

Get to Know Dusty Roads, Flight Attendant Fighting Discrimination

MAKERS 2019 CONFERENCE: Gloria Steinem honors Dusty Roads

Interviews and speaking engagements with Elaine Rock can be arranged by contacting her here.

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