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Northwest Airlines Stewardess Scrapbook

Gum Caddy

Richardson’s donation to the Society included her uniform and a case that held the gum stewardesses gave passengers to ease ear pain.

Two delightful scrapbooks recently donated to the Minnesota Historical Society chronicle the career and continuing interests of one of the Northwest Airlines’ earliest stewardesses. Helen Jacobson Richardson worked for Northwest from 1939 until 1942 when, following industry rules, she resigned in order to marry. Her personal memorabilia illuminate the world of the airline stewardess, from the daily routine of life in the sky and professional development to the poise required of these pioneering women and the celebrity they enjoyed.

The passenger airline industry was just developing during Richardson’s time as a stewardess. Her scrapbooks chart innovations, changes, and the evolution of many things we now take for granted: marketing materials advertising new routes and promoting travel, the development of the oxygen mask, unpressurized cabins and the distribution of chewing gum to ease passengers’ ear discomfort, and 30 years of uniform styles.

Job qualifications for early stewardesses were strict, as Richardson recalled in a 1969 Northwest Airlines newsletter, now preserved in her scrapbook. Many, if not all, stewardesses were registered nurses. They had to be “unmarried; age 21---25; 5 feet 2 inches to 5 feet 5 inches tall; weight not over 120 pounds.” Clippings like this, plus the great variety of photographs, luggage tags, tickets, advertisements, correspondence, and flight reports make Richardson’s scrapbooks a valuable time capsule of the ever-evolving airline industry.

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Scrapbook

A page from Richardson’s scrapbook.