Sunday, September 22, 2019

Ellen Church—Nurse, Flyer, First Stewardess, and War Hero

Ellen Church on her first trip as a nurse/hostess for Boing Air Transport, 1930.
Sitting interminably in the crammed boarding lounge of a major airport for an overbooked flight mysteriously delayed, you can almost inevitably overhear a nostalgic conversation between older executives or retired men.  These frequent flyers will lament the passing of the days when stewardesses where hot babes in heels and tight skirts, who lavished them with pillows, cocktails, and TLC.  And if you knew just the right hotels and cocktail lounges you could hook up with the fun loving swingers and the wives need never know.  Those girls were virtually the Bunnies of the air.
This image, whether true or wishful thinking, was constantly reinforced in the ‘50’s and ‘60’s by popular culture in books like Coffee, Tea, or Me and in innumerable films line Boing, Boing.

The old men's fantasy.
All of that ended, the geezers will lament, when the damn Federal Government made rules tossing out the traditional airline requirements--women only, single status, mandatory retirement in their early 30s, and weight restrictions.  Now, the old men complain, the cabins are staffed by squat, middle aged, homely women, and Gay men.  They work over crowded planes and do have not time or patience to lavish individual attention, barely pausing to pour overpriced sodas or tiny bottles of hooch and a bag of exactly seven peanuts.  
Your heart practically breaks for the old duffers, doesn’t it?
Of course, even in the days they wax nostalgic about, Stewardess also were portrayed as loyal and brave in air disaster films from No Highway in the Sky, the High and the Mighty, Doris Day in Julie, the Airport movies, to the spoof Airplane!
But female flight crew or flight attendants, to use the preferred terms of today, were much more than either stereotype in the beginning.  And we owe it to one woman—Ellen Church who led a quite remarkable life.
Church was born on September 22, 1904 in Cresco, Iowa in the northeastern part of the state, just south of the Minnesota border.  That was less than a year after the Wright Brothers first took flight at Kitty Hawk.  The Midwestern girl with an interest in science literally grew up along with aviation.  

Church as a young nurse.
She wanted to be a doctor, but that seemed unattainable to a young woman and she was discouraged by skeptical parents.  Instead, she studied nursing after graduating from Cresco High School.  Then, like many restless and ambitious young women in the post World War I era, she escaped small town life and went to vibrant and exciting San Francisco where she worked as a registered nurse in a modern hospital.  
In her spare time, Church pursued another dream.  She took flying lessons and obtained a pilot’s license.  She quickly made a name for herself among west coast flyers and became one of the few women to qualify in multi-engine aircraft.  

Church as a pilot--she was one of the first women on the West Coast to be certified on multiple engine aircraft.
Then she dared ask Steve Stimpson, the manager of the San Francisco office of Boeing Air Transport (BAT)—the predecessor to United Air Lines—for a job as a pilot with the fledgling airline.  When Stimpson turned down the proposal as impossible and ludicrous, Church suggested that the airline put nurses on board their airplanes as a way of reassuring a nervous public that flying was safe.  She shrewdly pitched it as a public relations ploy.  BAT was struggling to attract passengers other than adventurers and they desperately needed the revenue to supplement their main income, carrying the mail.  But clumsy and lumbering early airliners were still falling out of the sky with some regularity and schedules were at the mercy of unpredictable weather.  
The airline decided it was worth a try and gave Church the go-ahead to recruit and train seven nurses to join her in a three month experiment.  Applicants, in addition to being registered nurses, were required to be “single, younger than 25 years old; weigh less than 115 pounds; and stand less than 5 feet, 4 inches tall.”
The women’s diminutive size was not just a whim or even the preference of company executives for lithe females, although general attractiveness was an unstated requirement.  The airline literally counted ounces.  Every additional pound on a cabin attendant had to be subtracted from a profitable payload of mail, passengers, luggage and freight.  They also had to be able to stand up and maneuver in the very limited space of airline passenger compartments.
Despite being small, the young women had to be strong.  As a bonus to the public relations benefits, Church promised that women could also relieve the co-pilot of many menial tasks that had previously been assigned to them.  That including loading and unloading luggage, fueling, and helping push the planes in and out of hangers.  In fact taking over those duties helped smooth over the opposition of many pilots to having women crew members.  It elevated the status of co-pilots to be relieved of menial tasks.
Despite the hiring restrictions, the rigor of the short but intense training devised by Church, and the physical demands of the job, there was stiff completion for the jobs.  Not only did the positions seem to offer excitement and adventure, but the pay was $125 a month, a small fortune for a young woman in Depression ravaged America where a shop girl often made less than $10 a week.

Church and her first seven Sky Girls.
Church and her Sky Girls, as BAT advertising called them, first flew on May 12, 1930.  They were divided into two groups.  The first worked flights from San Francisco to Cheyenne, Wyoming and the rest from there to Chicago.  Church, however, in a tri-motor Boeing 80A airliner piloted by aviation legend Elrey Jeppesen, worked both legs of the grueling 20 hour flight serving 14 passengers.  The plane made 13 scheduled stops along the way.
In Chicago Church was greeted by newspaper photographers and newsreel cameras.  She was an instant celebrity and the Sky Girls did boost passenger traffic as predicted.  The experiment was declared a success and all eight women were hired permanently with Church as their chief.  Scores more were hired on other routs as quickly as the newly reorganized United Airlines could add them.  Competing airlines were quick to follow suit.
In just three years the first movie featuring a romance between a pilot and an attendant, Air Hostess starring Evalyn Knapp and James Murray hit the screen.  It was a B-movie but set the pattern form many more.

By1933 Hollywood was romanticizing stewardesses with popcorn fare like Air Hostess.

By that time Church’s career as a stewardess, as the job became known, was already over.  After just 18 month in the air she was grounded by injuries incurred in an automobile accident. 
Church returned to school and earned a B.A. in nursing—a level of training only a small minority of working R.N.s then had—from the University of Minnesota.  By 1936 she was supervisor of pediatrics at Milwaukee County Hospital.

Ellen Church was the Chief Nurse for the 52nd Troop Carrier Command  and oversaw the activities of the Medical Air Evacuation Squadrons.  Seen here being decorated for her service. 
With America’s entrance into World War II, the flying nurses of the airlines were called to duty by the armed forces.  They were replaced by women without the medical training.  Church volunteered and with her experience flying, as nurse, and as an administrator, she became a Captain in the Army Nurse Corps.  She worked as an air evacuation nurse in the North African and Italian campaigns and then trained the many evacuation nurses that would be needed for the D-Day invasion and subsequent campaigns.  For her service she was awarded the Air Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with seven bronze service stars, the American Theatre Campaign Medal, and the Victory Medal.
After the war, Church became the Director of Nursing and later administrator of Union Hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana.  She continued flying as a private pilot and led a full, active, and athletic life.  At the age of 60 in 1964 she married for the first and only time to Leonard Briggs Marshall, President of the Terre Haute First National Bank.  

A plaque at the small Cresco, Iowa airport memorializes the town's home grown heroine.
On August 22, 1965, less than a year later, Ellen Church died of injuries in a horseback riding fall.
She left no children but is the spiritual mother of flight attendants everywhere.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Calendar Coincidence Verse—International Day of Peace-Autumnal Equinox

Calendar coincidence--Peace and Autumnal Equinox.

This is another one of the calendar poems inspired by random, or not so random, coincidences of dates, usually discovered as I am in a mad scramble for a blog entry topic.  It first appeared in 2013 but the calendar serendipity is annual.

Tomorrow will be the first day of Autumn but here in McHenry County we will be soaked by the remnants of Tropical Storm Imelda, the same monsoon that has drowned Houston in more than 40 inches of rain so conditions are not just as they were described in the doggerel below. 
Today is the International Day of Peace, so proclaimed by the United Nations every year since 1982.  Since 2001 the date has been fixed to September 21 instead of the original third Tuesday of the month, which was also when the UN General Assembly begins its annual session


This year it is also the day after the International Climate Strike which was timed to both reflect the precarious balance which is now tipping us all to ecological destruction just as the Autumnal Equinox tips us irrevocably toward winter and to get the attention of the United Nations Emergency Climate Change Summit.  The rapid deterioration of the environment—melting ice caps, rising seas, hurricanes, heat waves, fires, droughts, and famine—also displaces millions creating international migration crisis, destabilizing governments, and creating conflict over scarce and vanishing resources—the perfect recipe for war and more war.

Those conflicts smolder across the globe and we are also now on the cusp of a possible war with Iran carrying water for both the Saudis and Israel 

Among its grander visions which must have seemed distant even to the founders of the Day of Peace, was at a call for an annual one day cease fire of on-going hostilities.  I can recall no armies ever standing down, but perhaps I missed something.


International Day of Peace/Autumnal Equinox Eve
September 21, 2013

The immanent equinox advertises itself
            this morning with crack crisp air,
            elderly maples beginning to rust at the crown,
            a touch of gold on borer doomed ashes,
            mums and marigolds,
            hoodies up on dog walkers in shorts,
            all under a prefect azure sky—
                        you know the one from the Sunday song 
reminding “skies everywhere as blue as mine.”

The globe teeters on the edge of equanimity,
            ready to balance for an instant between night and day,
            seasons, yesterday and tomorrow,
            a perilous, promising, moment.

The poor creatures swarming over its surface,
            fancying ourselves somehow its masters,
            alas, bereft of any balance….

From the Wishful Thinking File,
            institutional division—
Festooned with doves and olive branches
            brave words on blue banners,
            a speech here, a lovely little vigil there,
            an earnest strumming of guitars,
            litanies sung, mantras chanted,
            kind hearts and gentle people…

The creatures go about our brutal business,
            blithely ignoring it all—
                        proclamation and equinox alike.

—Patrick Murfin




Friday, September 20, 2019

All in for the Global Climate Strike Today


Young people are leading the global Climate Strike Movement.
Millions of folks from around the world will turn out today for massive actions sparked by the literal life and death crisis of the environment and largely led by students and young people who realize their future has been threatened stupidity and greed.  They are done being polite and will no longer stand to be patted on the head and told how cute or inspiring their actions are.  A lot of people agree with them now and this pointedly intergenerational Climate Strike is being joined by scientists, labor unions, indigenous peoples, and even some politicians, governments, and business groups most threatened.
Headline grabbing events have lent even more urgency to the call.  The Bahamas lie in ruins from an almost unprecedentedly powerful hurricane as of now seven potential hurricanes are lined up across the Atlantic  each fed and strengthened by warming waters and disrupted currents including the Gulf Stream.  A mere slow moving tropical depression is right now dumping up to 40 inches of rain on South Texas—the kind of monsoon long familiar in South Asia which now threaten to become regular events here, too.  The polar North is losing its sea ice and glaciers from Greenland and Iceland to Alaska are disappearing and raising sea levels.  Those threats have been mirrored in the Antarctic.  Fires continue to rage across the globe eating up crucial carbon sinks that can temper rising temperatures.  Australia is headed into its summer season expecting another year of record breaking heat and drought so severe that swaths of the country may become uninhabitable.  

Yet, predictably, there is pushback officially led with zeal by the United States Government under the science denying Trump regime.  Not only has the U.S. withdrawn from international climate pacts and flouted reversal of virtually every American environmental regulation it can lay its hands on.  It does not just deny credible science; it actively suppresses and censors research.  Trade negotiations and even continued support to long-time allies are used to blackmail other nations.
The climate strike is already well underway.  In Australia, which gets a head start, more than 300,000 have taken to the streets already in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, other major cities and rural communities.  The strike is supported not only by students, but is endorsed by most major trade unions many of whose members are taking the day off.
In the United Kingdom, where the student-led Extinction Rebellion is a well-established force, trade unions have called for the first national General Strike since 1926.  Boris Johnson’s battered Tory government, already disintegrating under his Brexit clean break debacle, is in big trouble.
Every participating country has its own story, its own heroes.  Some, like New Zealand, plan their Strikes for a week from today, September 27, the anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring, a foundational ecological document in 1962.  Other countries are planning strikes and marches on both days in a one-two punch.

Greta Thunberg outside the White House last week.
In the U.S. the largest Climate Strike action is expected in New York City, where the United Nations is hosting an emergency climate summit.   Greta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old Norwegian school girl who inspired the international student climate strike movement with her solitary Friday strike in Oslo and is now the movement’s most visible symbol will be on hand supported by US Youth Climate Strike, 350.org, MoveOn, Amnesty International, Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace International, Oxfam, World Wildlife Fund, Indivisible, the March for Science, Women’s March, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Labor Network for Sustainability, Green Faith, the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA), the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) and dozens of others.  New York Public Schools have announced that participation by its students will be considered an excused absence.  A million or more are expected to take to the streets in New York alone.
Other major U.S. actions are scheduled today in Boston, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle. They will be supported by hundreds of local actions.
Logo for the Chicago Youth Climate March.

The Chicago Youth Climate Strike will start at South Columbus Drive and East Roosevelt Road in the south end of Grant Park near the Field Museum at 11am and march to Federal Plaza, South Dearborn and Adams, for a rally featuring performers and speakers.
I have been promoting the Climate Strike on this blog and in social media for some time and was eagerly planning to take the train down to Chicago to participate.  Alas the other day while looking at the march route I came to an unfortunate but irrefutable conclusion.  I am simply no longer physically able to make such a march, to be on my feet for so many hours, and to be largely unable to have access to toilets.  Since my major illness last year, even relatively moderate exercise leaves me short of breath and weak.  It is a bitter pill for a guy who used to walk miles regularly and who is an old fire horse ready to respond to any call for action.  In fact, the realization leaves me feeling heart broken and useless.  
It must have been weighing heavily on my mind because I woke with a start last night.  I suddenly realized that if Greta Thunberg could start this whole ball rolling with her personal lonely vigil, there is no reason why I can’t conduct my own climate strike right here where I live.

My crappy homemade sign for my one geezer climate strike today.
I took a marker to some poster board, and made a sloppy sign.  While the March is on in Chicago, I will stand at the end of my driveway on busy Illinois Rt. 176 in Crystal Lake and bear my own witness.  Maybe I will call the Northwest Herald and tip them off to the action of a crazy old man in a cowboy hat.  Maybe they will cover it. Maybe they won’t.  I’ll be there either way.  Honk if you drive by.
I invite others like me to do the same.  If your house is not on as busy a street as mine, amble over to some nearby intersection and pass a couple of pleasant hours.  Someone is bound to see you.  
Meanwhile I am so glad young people are taking up where we geezers are leaving off.  After all, the future belongs to you!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Excruciating Death of James A. Garfield—A Case of Medical Malpractice

President James A. Garfield being treated by doctors at the White House after being shot.  The wound was serious, but should not have been fatal.  Attempts to probe for the bullet--often with unwashed hands and fingers, widened the wound, caused more bleeding, pierced his liver, and ultimately led to a deadly and painful infection.
On September 19, 1881 President James A. Garfield died in agony on the Jersey Shore 78 days after being shot in the back by a disappointed office seeker in a Washington train station.  He had only been in office a total of 199 days, almost half that time incapacitated by his injury.  
One of the bullets that fired the morning of July 2 by Charles J. Gateau grazed the President’s arm.  The other lodged in his back near the spine.  It could not be found.  But the search for the bullet, rather than missile itself ultimately cost Garfield his life.  
Taken back to the White House several doctors over the next few days probed for the bullet with instruments, and with their own unwashed hands—a bad practice even in those days.  One doctor even managed to pierce his liver.  The resulting infection, probably caused by Streptococcus, resulted in “blood poisoning,” untreatable in the days before antibiotics

Alexander Graham Bell, left, attempted to locate the bullet with a magnetic device of his invention but was foiled by metal bed springs.
Still desperate to find the bullet, inventor Alexander Graham Bell was called in.  He had developed a magnetic device to locate the projectile.  It would have worked, too.  But neither he nor the other doctors realized that the bed on which Garfield was lying had a metal frame and springs—relatively uncommon at the time—rendering the magnetic devise useless.  Even if the bullet had been discovered, however, the infection had already taken hold and it was probably too late to save the President by surgery.
On September 9, Garfield was taken by train to a beach home in Elberon (now Long Branch) New Jersey in hopes that the sea air would revive him.  It didn’t.
Garfield was born in Moreland Hills, Ohio on November 19, 1831.  His father died when he was small and he was raised by his mother.  A gifted student, he attended college in nearby Hiram at a school maintained by his family’s Church of Christ (The Christian Church) denomination before going east to complete his education at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts from which he graduated with distinction in 1856.
Returning to Ohio he took up preaching at the Franklin Circle Christian Church.  He decided against making a career in the ministry, but was ordained as an elder, making him the only clergy person ever elected President.  He remained a devoted church member the rest of his life.  
Garfield married in 1858 and began supporting his growing family as a teacher.  Meanwhile he privately studied law and entered politics.  He was elected to the Ohio State Senate as a Republican in 1859 and passed the bar the following year.
Garfield’s rise to prominence began as a youthful officer in the Civil War.  He helped raise the 42nd Ohio Volunteer Infantry Regiment and was named its Colonel.  Major General Don Carlos Buell gave him a command of a mixed brigade of Ohio and Kentucky Volunteer infantry and Virginia loyalist cavalry.  He helped clear Confederate forces out of western Kentucky and was promoted to Brigadier.  He was a brigade commander at Shiloh and at the Siege of Corinth, Mississippi.

Garfield as a young Brigadier General in the Civil War.
Pleading health concerns Garfield asked for leave from the Army and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.  He returned to active duty until the new Congress was sworn in and served as Chief of Staff for William S. Rosecrans, Commander of the Army of the Cumberland.  After the Battle of Chickamauga he was promoted Major General.  In December, 1863 he resigned his commission to take his seat in Congress.
Garfield quickly rose to prominence in the House as a hawk on the war and for a harsh Reconstruction policy.  He was handily re-elected every two years, despite having been brushed by the Crédit Mobilier scandal in which members of Congress were alleged to have taken bribes to support the Union Pacific Railroad.
In 1876 he was one of the appointed Republican Special Commissioners that handed the Presidency to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes despite lagging Democrat Samuel Tilden in the popular vote.  The same year he became Republican Floor Leader of the House.
In January 1880 Garfield was elected to the Senate by the Ohio Legislature, which had just returned to Republican hands.  He went to the Republican National Convention later that year pledged to support the candidacy of fellow Ohioan John Sherman.  At the convention the leading candidates, former President Ulysses S Grant and Maine’s James G. Blaine, were hopelessly deadlocked after multiple ballots.  Grant’s partisans, the so-called Stalwarts represented a return to business-as-usual and an aggressive use of political patronage.  Blaine and Sherman represented, to one degree or another advocates of Civil Service Reform and were nick-named the Half Breeds.  On the 36th ballot, Blaine and Sherman threw their combined support behind a surprised Garfield who won the nomination.
The election campaign, against another Civil War General, Democrat Winfield Scott Hancock, was close fought.  In addition the perennial issues of the pace of Reconstruction and Civil Service, Chinese immigration was a hot button issue in California, a crucial swing state.  Both candidates publicly opposed further Asian immigration.  A handwritten letter purporting to be from Garfield to an H.L. Morey of Massachusetts indicated he supported unrestricted immigration.  The firestorm threatened to effectively derail his campaign until Garfield proved that the letter was a forgery and that no H. L. Morey existed.  Public sympathy swung to the wronged Candidate.  The popular vote was tight—Garfield won by only 2,000 votes out of 8.89 million cast—but he handily won the Electoral College.     

Garfield in an official portrait during his brief presidency.
Garfield spent the first months of his term trying to put together a Cabinet in the face of opposition from Stalwart leader Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York.  Conkling had succeeded in getting his protégée, former Collector of the Port of New York Chester Allan Arthur on the ticket as Vice President, but he could not get the Cabinet posts he desired for his faction, particularly the patronage rich position of Post Master General.  Garfield nominated Blaine as Secretary of State and Robert Todd Lincoln, son of the martyred President as Secretary of War.   He gave the Post Master General job to a New York state rival of Conkling.  Conkling and the other New York Senator resigned in protest to the affront to Senatorial privilege, but were surprised when the New York Legislature did not promptly re-elect them.  After months of struggle, Garfield had consolidated his power and defeated the Stalwarts.  He finally was ready to turn to his agenda—the passage of Civil Service Reform and the defense of suffrage for Freedmen in the South.  He never got to either task.

Garfield with Robert Todd Lincoln at his side was shot in the back at a Washington railroad station by a man described as a "disappointed office seeker." 
On the morning of July 2 Garfield entered the Sixth Street Station of the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad for a trip to his alma mater Williams College where he was slated to make a speech.  He was accompanied by Blaine and Lincoln and two of his young sons.  He was shot in the back by Gateau, who had fruitlessly been pursuing an appointment as a U.S. Consul in Paris, a job for which he was manifestly unqualified.  After he was subdued by onlookers, Gateau told police that, “I am the Stalwart of Stalwarts!  Now Arthur is President!”
That led to brief speculation that the horrified Arthur or other Stalwarts were somehow involved in an assassination plot.  Gateau, however, was quickly proven to have acted alone.  After the President died, his lawyers tried to defend him on the charge of murder by saying that the bullets he fired did not kill the Garfield, his doctors did.  Fair enough, but the doctors could have never botched their treatment if Gateau had not fired.  A jury quickly found him guilty and he was hanged on June 30, 1882.

This famous front page Puck cartoon depicts assassin Guiteau, the disappointed office seeker.  The public perception of Garfield as a martyr to Civil Service reform, forced the hand of incoming President Chester Alan Arthur, a veteran New York spoilsman himself and loyal Stalwart, to back reform.
The new president surprised everyone, including himself, by successfully pushing Civil Service reform through Congress.  Arthur signed the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act into law on January 16, 1883, a fitting memorial to Garfield.
Robert Todd Lincoln, who had endured the assassination of his father and was at Garfield’s side when he was shot, was also in Buffalo, New York at the Pan-American Exposition at the invitation of the President when William McKinley was shot in 1901.  He understandably felt he was something of a jinx and declined all invitations to appear with other Presidents until the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial in 1922.  And that day, he was looking over his shoulder.