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Ruth Carol Taylor : First African American Female Flight Attendant

Savvy Sistahs Soar: Ruth Carol Taylor (1931 –    )

Why She Soars: She broke the color barrier in the career of flight attendants, becoming the first African American woman to be hired as a stewardess.

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, this beauty with brains sought education first before donning a flight attendant’s uniform. Following in the footsteps of her mother, Taylor received a nursing certificate from the Bellevue School of Nursing and worked several years as a registered nurse.

Becoming unfulfilled, Taylor decided to break the color lines that existed in the airline industry, and in 1958 she decided to apply for a flight attendant position (known then as a stewardess) at Trans World Airlines (TWA). Taylor was rejected merely based on her skin color and ethnicity. Angered by the injustice, she filed a complaint against the company with the New York State Commission of Discrimination. It was around that time that Mohawk Airlines—a regional airline carrier—expressed interest in hiring minority flight attendants, and she applied for a position. Selected from 800 black applicants, Taylor was hired in December 1958 and became the first black flight attendant on a flight from Ithaca to New York City on February 11, 1959.

In a 1997 interview for JET magazine, Taylor said she didn’t take the job because she thought the life of a flight attendant would be great. She said she did it to fight discrimination.

“…It irked me that people were not allowing people of color to apply… Anything like that sets my teeth to grinding,” she told JET. Subsequently, Margaret Grant became the first black flight attendant for a major airline three months after Taylor’s first flight amidst pressure from TWA.

Ironically, Taylor was released from Mohawk Airlines six months later as a result of her marriage. During that time, airline carriers had a strict policy that flight attendants were to remain single.

Taylor opening the door for women of color to enter the career field of flight attendants was just the beginning of her activism. Later she would become significantly involved in the civil rights movement, covering the 1963 March on Washington as a journalist, and as an activist for women’s rights.

Her accomplishments were formally recognized by the New York State Assembly in 2008—fifty years after her historic first flight.

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