Advice to Young Women: Run for congress.
Childhood Heroes: Female pilots Amelia Earhart, Jacqueline Cochran, Beryl Markham, and the WASPs.
Best Customer: Eleanor Roosevelt who she met on one of her flights: “She was so charming, and so warm, just lovely. My parents were Republicans and they hated Roosevelt and I called them up and I said ‘you’re stupid.’”
Dream Job: “I would have liked to have been a pilot off an aircraft carrier in World War II.”
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.