First Pan Am Stewardess to Fly Across the Pacific

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Photograph given to Clipper Crew by Thomas Kewin.

Clipper Crew extends thanks to Claude Hudspeth and Thomas Kewin, Pan American Flight Engineer and author of “The Pan Am Journey”,   for this wonderful story about Hope Parkinson, Pan Am Stewardess extraordinaire and his wife.   It was Claude who put Clipper Crew in touch with Thomas Kewin, a good friend of his.  Thomas’s wife Hope Parkinson was a very special Pan Am stewardess – the first stewardess hired by the Pacific-Alaska Division, the first stewardess to make a Constellation flight to Honolulu,  the first Pan American stewardess to cross the Pacific and arrive in Australia.    The story that  follows is compiled from Tom’s correspondence to us, conversation with him, excerpts from his book, and from a feature article for “Charm  – The Magazine for Women Who Work” .  There is a link to the article, titled “She Works In San Francisco” at the bottom of this page.  Mary Hahlbeck,  the author, gives us an amazingly detailed slice of time with her descriptions of Hope Parkinson’s work life in the 40’s.

Photograph from "She Works In San Francisco" an article from "Charm - The Magazine for Women Who Work" provided by Thomas Kewin.
Image from “She Works In San Francisco” an article from “Charm – The Magazine for Women Who Work” provided by Thomas Kewin.

 

Tom Kewin had known Hope Parkinson since Hope was eleven years of age.  He spent summers at his grandmother’s cabin at Twain Harte, ten miles east of Sonora.  His cousin, Marnie Say, was also there for the summer and Hope came as a guest for a week every summer.  No one knew then that the two would meet years later in San Francisco and fall completely in love.  Tom pursued Hope for five years until he finally got her to the church!

In Hope’s words from “She Works in San Francisco” a feature story in Charm – The Magazine for Women Who Work”:

“I never had any particular yen to travel; I loved home.  I thought I wanted to be an English teacher, but something in school threw me – I think it was English history.  I took a job typing for the State of California Motor Vehicles Department and later moved over to the State Board of Education. ” 

Then came a trip to Chicago to be a bridesmaid at a friend’s wedding. Hope had already decided since she had gone that far to explore the U.S. some more and so she headed for New York City.

“I ran out of cash pretty fast in that fine city, ” she laughs.  “I was too proud to write home for money from my bank account – looked like I was going in for riotous living and couldn’t take care of myself,  so I got what seemed a typical New York job, modeling for a custom furrier.  I was pretty grim as a model and left when they reorganized their business and closed for three months.”

Ditching at Sea Training Second Class 1944, Hope Parkinson.  Image courtesy of Tom Kewin.
Ditching at Sea Training Second Class 1944, Hope Parkinson. Image courtesy of Tom Kewin.

Undaunted by this development Hope decided to take the train to Miami to visit another friend.  To help make ends meet she took a job as the receptionist at a local country club, where she heard that Pan American World Airways was hiring stewardesses.  She immediately applied for the job.  11 interviews later she was accepted and placed in the second class of November 1944.

Hope Parkinson's Class, image courtesy of Tom Kewin.
Hope Parkinson’s Class, image courtesy of Tom Kewin.

After graduation, she went to work for the Latin American Division and later transferred to New Orleans, flying the Central American routes. For almost two years Hope flew the Douglas DC3 all about the Caribbean and on the Boeing Stratoliners to Havana.

In the Charm article, Hope says, “I was homesick the whole time and tried to transfer out here to the Coast, but there wasn’t much chance for they employed only stewards in the Pacific-Alaska Division in those days. “

Cover of Life Magazine October 30, 1944
Cover of Life Magazine October 30, 1944

 

 

LIFE Magazine, October 30, 1944:  “After two years under contract with the U.S. Navy, Pan American’s Alaska routes are back in civilian air transport service.  Pan American’s Alaska Clippers are back in “civilian clothes” and ready to serve the American Public and great territory of Alaska.  For administrative purposes, Pan Am’s former Alaska Division was consolidated with the Pacific Division to from the Pacific Alaska Division.”

Pan Am Alaska Ad
Original Pan Am ad from the private collection of Romlee Stoughton.

 

Hope continues, “Once, I re-applied for transfer and came home on vacation.  And here’s where I had luck.  Pan American had just made a change in policy and had begun to replace stewards with girls.  It was a great day in our family when the news came that the  Latin American Division had arranged for my release and that my transfer was okayed”. 

In “The Pan Am Journey” Thomas Kewin writes “The company hired the first stewardesses in Miami in 1944, and we heard rumors in San Francisco, they were considering doing the same in the Pacific region.    Imagine my surprise in 1948 when I met the first one and realized I had known her for years……At my grandmother Kewin’s summer cabin at Twaine Harte, in the Sierras, we had ridden horseback, swam and fished together and became close friends while teenagers.  And now this beautiful girl was the first stewardess to fly across the Pacific.

With the end of the war in 1945, the Navy contracts quickly came to an end, and the Pacific Division shrank to a mere three Boeing 314 Clippers.  The first Lockheed Constellations arrived, and the  flying boats retired.  I was part of the crew on the last B-314 flight from Honolulu to San Francisco and then went into training on the ‘Connies’.”

And what happened to those Clippers?   Tom writes, “the three Clippers were taken across the bay to Alameda Naval Air Station, towed onto the ramp on beaching gear, and sat there for a few months before being flown to San Diego, and the auction block.  Pan Am had the opportunity to buy back the B-14s at $1.00 a piece but declined.  They were sold off at $50,000 each and soon disappeared.  ”

The Lockheed Constellations were initially equipped with Wright engines, but they did not have direct fuel injection consequently the engines could catch fire easily, and, unfortunately did so.   For example, in 1946 a Pan Am Constellation was en route from New York to London but had to return and belly land on a grassy strip due to a fire right after take off.  Happily there were no injuries.  Two noted passengers on board this flight were Laurence Olivier and his wife, Vivian Leigh. (To read  a personal, amazingly detailed account of this flight, see the link at the bottom of the page.)

From the private collection of Romlee Stoughton. Clipper America landing at Willimantic, CT. June 1946.
From the private collection of Romlee Stoughton. Clipper America landing at Willimantic, CT. June 1946.

During Hope’s first two months in San Francisco, she was the only stewardess working while the first west coast class trained.   She too worked on the new Lockheed Constellations.  On one of Tom’s first trips to Honolulu, on a  “Connie”, two engines failed, and the crew spent two weeks at the Moana Hotel awaiting replacement engines! In Tom’s words “Tough duty!”  Two months later the Constellations were grounded until the carburetors could be replaced with fuel injection, so it was up to the DC-4s to fill the gap.

Hope-Parkinson-PAA-Connie-Constelation---Sep,-1946-B&W-Version

On October 21, 1946, Hope was part of the crew on a survey flight on Clipper Behring to Sydney, Australia, where she was featured in some local newspapers.  This officially made her the first Pan Am stewardess to fly across the Pacific, and the first American stewardess to visit Australia.

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Hope Parkinson in Australia with a clipping from the Sydney Morning Herald, October 21, 1946. Image provided by Thomas Kewin.

The article in the Sydney Morning Herald states,  “The Pan American Airways Clipper Behring arrived at Mascot yesterday afternoon from San Francisco on a survey flight, carrying Mr. Harold Gatty, the airline’s regional manager for the South-West Pacific.”  Not shown in the picture is a block of text called Air Hostess is Paid in Nylons.  “I think I may have the best job in the whole world” said Miss Hope Parkinson, age 24, first American Air Hostess in Sydney yesterday.  Her reason?  As Air Hostess on the Pan American Clipper Behring she has flown more than half a million miles and visited more than a dozen countries; and her wage ranges up to $75 – over 23 pounds – a week with three new pairs of nylon stockings a month!”

Hope had a very successful career,  becoming a check purser early on, and then Stewardess Coordinator and the leading public relations person for Pan Am on the west coast.  “Her Irish smile appeared in hundreds of press releases, magazines, and foreign newspapers.

Image given to Clipper Crew by Thomas Kewin.
Image given to Clipper Crew by Thomas Kewin.

She was made part of the crew of almost every inaugural flight and a member of the team of Flight Service personnel who helped design the galley for the Pan Am B-377 Stratocruiser.  Tom and Hope had to keep a low profile.  Tom said when they were asked about their relationship they would just say ‘We are old family friends’.”

In 1950 Hope, always adventurous, made the most of her travel benefits and traveled to the major cities in Europe on a 30 day trip with two stewardess friends of hers, Betty Fitzgerald and Sally Breuner.   Hope kept a daily log of her travels and their impressions of the cities.  A few years later when Tom was regularly flying to Europe, he made good use of Hope’s travel diary referring to it to learn about layovers ahead of time and what was available.  The internet was not in existence then, information about cities was hard to come by, except from perhaps the encyclopedia, so the information from the three stewardesses was invaluable to Tom and his fellow fliers.

Hope Parkinson and Thomas Kewin finally tie the knot!
Hope Parkinson and Thomas Kewin finally tie the knot!

In the fall of 1950, Thomas was transferred to New York where as he put it “that put me at a 3,000-mile disadvantage in my pursuit of Hope Parkinson.  In 1952 she came to New York to visit me….We spent five days refreshing our romance and talking about the future.  We decided to marry quietly in New York and work it out from there.  We declared our vows in an Episcopal Church in Great Neck, New York, with the Rector’s wife and my friend James Chadwick in attendance.  After a two-day honeymoon, Hope went back to California to give the company notice and ship her belongings east.  I went on a ten-day trip to Africa and came home to start house hunting .”

 

 

“In 1975 doctors found that Hope had cancer.  It had started as breast cancer but insidiously spread throughout her body.  With her fate clearly known, Hope was remarkable.  She was up and dressed every morning, wearing her usual smile, and the daily routine was not changed.  Above all, she wanted to show our sons that dying was a part of living.    ……And then Hope “drifted into a long sleep.”

Clipper Crew Postscript:  Tom told us he just provided original photos to his friend John Hill, Director of the Aviation Museum and Library at San Francisco Airport.  It is hoped they will mount an exhibit including Hope’s many firsts,  sometime in 2017.

Tom also wrote us that Hope worked alongside Bunny Scott Laird and Pat Rockwell from the very beginning to help create World Wings International.

Links

She Works In San Francisco

Nine Rubies”

“Charm Magazine – The Magazine for Women Who Work”

The Pan Am Journey by Thomas Kewin

Clipper America’s Last Flight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

8 thoughts on “First Pan Am Stewardess to Fly Across the Pacific

  1. Great story! I flew for Pan Am & UAL as a purser for 58 years. Took early retirement at the age of 82! Always out of SFO All Pan Amers should read Robert Gandt’s book “Skygods” for the real story on why Pan Am failed. Hint; Ed Acker

  2. Being an employee of Pan Am from 1942 to 1982, gave me enjoyment and a very good way to spend my vacations in many places. But my family and I were SUBJECT TO LOAD! That meant even though we were seated in the airplane and ready to go, sometimes flight personnel could tell you “We are overbooked”. This happened to us once, our luggage went to Tokyo and we went back home. The next day we were lucky and made the flight and arrived in Tokyo, but the employees there were on strike and we still couldn’t get our luggage! Memories!

  3. Very fascinating to read about the first stewardess at Pan Am !
    I am still flying as a purser more than 45 years and our job has been demoted in every which way but Pan Am will never be replaced by anyone ! Thank you for publishing this article and best wishes ! I will always remain proud of having had the privilege to work with the incomparable airline of the world !

  4. Great article. I am proud and grateful to be part of Pan Am. It is a huge part of my history and memories.

  5. I love this story. I especially like the story of two children meeting years later and falling in love and marrying. I found it so sad that Hope died at a young age; as I read the story I was hoping that she was either still alive or had died at an old age.

    I remember the forced landing in Willimantic, reading about it at the time. I flew with Sam Miller as his copilot decades later. He had been the New York Chief Pilot and left that post so that he could spend his last year as a pilot on the line. My one trip with him was his very last trip. It was a great honor that I had been so fortunate to fly with him, especially on that trip.

  6. What a great article and an amazing woman! My date of hire was 4/78 but I didn’t get any nylons? The best job in the world and based in SFO made it possible to see so many amazing countries with excellent benefits! Glad people like Hope pioneered the way for the rest of us!

  7. Thanks for publishing this. Hope sounds like someone I would love to have known personally. What a unique life she had! By the time I started flying it wasn’t quite as unique or glamorous, but it was still the best job in the world.

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