Student studies flight attendant history

CHEYENNE, Wyo. – A University of Wyoming graduate student says the first airline stewardesses – many of whom were trained at a school in Cheyenne – faced a variety of adventures and responsibilities unheard of by modern flight attendants.

Michael Kassel, who is pursuing a graduate degree in history, hopes to gather enough information on early stewardesses to eventually write a book on the subject. He presented some of his findings at the Cheyenne Frontier Days Old West Museum on Saturday as the museum celebrated 100 years of powered flight.

“Nothing’s really been written about this,” Kassel said.

One early stewardess was Inez Keller.

Keller was once on a United Airlines flight headed across the Wamsutter Mountains. The plane was having a tough time making it over the range, however, and could not gain enough altitude on three attempts.

Before the pilot tried a fourth time, he asked Keller to get out of the plane. Without her 115 or so pounds, the plane achieved enough altitude to clear the peaks and continue on its way.

Keller most likely was trained as a stewardess in Cheyenne, where Boeing Air Transport _ later United Airlines _ had its headquarters and where it operated a stewardess school from 1947 to 1961. Stewardesses first trained in Cheyenne, however, in 1930.

Kassel learned that Cheyenne was once a key city in cross-country travel. “Until 1947, people in Denver who wanted to fly would have to come here,” he said.

Stewardesses of Keller’s time had to be no older than 25, no taller than 5-feet, 4 inches, and weigh no more than 115 pounds. Also they had to be trained as nurses.

They flew in Boeing 80-A Trimotors, which had fabric wings and tiny passenger compartments. Their duties included carrying and tagging luggage, pushing planes into the hangar, weighing luggage and passengers, and carrying buckets of fuel when necessary.

Kassel said the most the most amazing fact he’s come across is the number of women who were trained in Cheyenne.

“Stewardesses generally worked for about 26 months, so the airline needed 600 new stewardesses every year,” he said.

The total trained was 6,700.

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