MAKERS Profile

Dusty Roads

Stewardess Fighting Discrimination

In this video

Dusty Roads on her glamorous career as a stewardess and how she stopped age discrimination in the airline industry. 
Barbara “Dusty” Roads is a former stewardess and union leader who led a landmark sex discrimination case in the airline industry. She was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, and fell in love with aviation at a young age watching local air races and following the formation of the WASPs during WWII. She dreamed of being a pilot until, as a teenager, her father broke the news to her that “they don’t hire ladies” as pilots. Settling for what seemed the next best option, she started flying as a ‘stewardess’ with American Airlines in 1950. Although Roads was thrilled at the “glamorous” career, she came to question commonplace industry practices like American’s policies that forced stewardesses to remain unmarried and retire at the age of 32. No other staff was fired at 32 and it riled Roads’ “Midwestern sense of fair play.” Roads explains, it was “economics, and like one […] man said, if they see an old bag on the airplane, they are mad for a month. In other words, we were sex objects.”   By 1965, Roads was a union officer and seasoned lobbyist for the national flight attendants union, the ALSSA, when she saw a new opening to fight back. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act made discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sex – as well as race, color, religion, or national origin – illegal and established the Equal Opportunities Employment Commission (EEOC) to hear discrimination cases. When the EEOC opened its doors in July 1965, Roads and a fellow stewardess were at its doorstep with their complaint, shocking the staff at the new agency, who were expecting to hear cases on race, not sex, discrimination. In 1968, the EEOC issued a ruling prohibiting age ceilings or marriage bans in the airline industry and the ALSSA signed a new contract with American Airlines that was finally devoid of these discriminatory policies. Roads continued her career in the skies, before retiring in 1994, at age 66.

More From Dusty

Brother’s Privileges
Roads remembers the moment it dawned on her that she had fewer privileges as a girl than her brother did as a boy.

Winston Churchill's Wisdom
Roads touts at the importance of taking pride in your work. 

Generational Givens
Roads marvels at how society quickly adjusts to progressive change and takes it for granted.

Postponing Marriage Indefinitely
Roads recalls why she happily remained a single woman.

Not a Bra Burner
Roads explains why she couldn't relate to radical feminist activists.

Women Everywhere Were Awakened
Roads describes how the women's movement was made up of a lot of little actions. 

Selling Sex in the Sky
Roads on how Senator Martha Griffiths deftly put an end to the notion that a stewardess had to be a young, single woman.