Women’s History Month Trivia

by Thea Voutiritsas

This woman is a former stewardess and union leader who led a landmark sex discrimination case in the airline industry.

Answer: Barbara “Dusty” Roads

image via pbs.org

Barbara “Dusty” Roads is a former stewardess and union leader who led a landmark sex discrimination case in the airline industry. From a young age, she loved aviation, but gave up on that dream in her teens when her father told her, “You can’t be an airline pilot darling, they don’t hire ladies.” She thought becoming a flight attendant would be the next best thing. However, she claims it was not a career at the time; it was more of a transition between graduating college and finding “Mr. Right.” Roads wasn’t much interested in finding a Mr. Right, and preferred to stay with the airline.

When airlines began imposing age limits on flight stewardesses and forcing women out at age 32, she became frustrated. In an interview with PBS, Roads said,

It made me angry, it really did. It violated my sense of fair play. The pilots could work until age 60 and we were fired at age 32. Something was wrong there. It just violated my midwestern core value of fair play.”

“[These rules] were in place when I joined the airline in 1950. And it was a real strange thing, but we accepted the fact that we were fired when we got married. They expected women to get fat and ugly when they got married and had babies. They felt you wouldn’t devote as much attention to the job as you should. Pilots – men — could be married, but it was different for a woman.”

The airlines wanted to sell the image of a young, single girl that would appeal to male passengers. However, Roads wasn’t buying it. She became a union officer in LA, then a national officer, and soon wanted to become an advocate for all flight attendants. “Finally,” she said, “I was interested in all women. And now I’m interested in humanity.”  In July 1965, Roads and her fellow stewardesses were at the doorstep of the Equal Opportunities Employment Commission (EEOC). By 1968, the EEOC issued a ruling prohibiting age ceilings or marriage bans in the airline industry.