Quote of the Day: If not you, who? If not now, when? attributed to Hillel the Elder

People don’t always set out to do great things. Most just want to live out their lives in peace. But, when you have a strong sense of justice and a whole lotta moxie, you speak up. Mary Pat Laffey is that type of person. She started her career as a (then named) stewardess for Northwest Orient Airlines and quickly noted the disparities between male and female flight crew. She asked questions. She made requests. She became the Base Representative for Stewardesses in Seattle in 1965. While her complaints and requests were valid, they were ignored. When she finally filed a lawsuit for fair working conditions, treatment, and equal pay, the airlines fought back with every resource, dragging out the suit and payment for retribution for 20 years. 

Three flight attendants share a moment, on the road. Elise Langer, Kimberly Rose Richardson, and Tracey Malone as Mary Pat Laffey in Stewardess! at the HERstory Theatre in St. Paul, MN. Photo by Scott Pakudaitis

Mary Pat was asking for things like being able to work past the age of 32, not getting fired because a woman was married or had children, eliminating weekly weight and grooming checks, and allowing flight attendants to wear their glasses. And, of course, equal pay for equal work and being allowed to apply for, and offered the job, of Purser, a higher paying job that only males got. Mary Pat did get promoted to Purser, but did not receive equal pay. She fought hard and with perseverance achieved a major milestone in equality in the work force.

The play Stewardess! written by Minnesota playwright Kira Obolensky is part of a series of plays at the History Theatre in St. Paul, MN of plays by and about women, calling it HERstory. They will feature three world premieres including Stewardess!, Sisters of Peace, and Dirty Business. All three are on my must-see list.

I brought three college students to this production. They were all intrigued by the story. It was fascinating to me to sit in the audience with these three young people who are learning more about their past, how far we’ve come, and the people who carved the way for us. At the same time, we’re surrounded by people who lived through those times, fighting their own small battles for equality and respect. The question of the night was, “Why didn’t they just do the right thing in the first place? Why do they fight what’s right?” It was frustrating for the young people to watch. I felt a sense of gratitude for the brave women who fought for rights that I now enjoy. Stories like this show us the strength and sacrifice it took to get us here.

The audience connected to this play. I heard sighs and murmurs during scenes and dialogue that struck a chord, as well as a throaty sound, like a growl, for particularly unjust and sexist remarks, as well as cheers for moments of triumph. The character Gloria Steinem received applause, and great whoops when they held up a copy of MS Magazine, and jeers at the blatant dismissal of it by its male critics. When the character Ruth Bader Ginsburg marched across the stage, having rallied for Equal Rights, the audience erupted in applause. 

Cast of Stewardess! at the HERstory Theatre in St. Paul, MN through March 3, 2019. Photo by Scott Pakudaitis

Performances by the six member cast are outstanding. Tracey Maloney plays Mary Pat Laffey, giving her strength and emotion and drawing us quickly into her story. Jamila Anderson plays several characters including Lorraine Wright who sued Northwest Airlines for racial discrimination, and won. Kimberly Rose Richardson plays Primmie Frost who was fired when the airlines found out that she was married, and also played the unstoppable Gloria Steinem. Elise Langer plays several characters as well, giving each a strong voice and personality. John Catron and Adam Whisner play various male roles, and not all of them are slimy, selfish, egotistical pigs. While many men fought (are still fighting) against Equality, not wanting to give up their position of power, others see the injustices and rally with the women.

Stewardess! by Kira Obolensky, directed by Nöel Raymond, and produced by the History/HERstory Theatre in St. Paul, MN is playing through March 3, 2019. Go to this play. Bring all your young people. Celebrate the bravery and milestones that our foremothers fought for us. (tickets for students through college age, with ID, are $15)

Post play discussions will happen after the Sunday matinee performances:
Feb. 10, Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc.

Feb. 17, Peanuts or Pretzels? Hear from flight attendants then and now.
Feb. 24, Flying the Friendly Skies, discussion with Judith Brant, Customer Project Manager, Loyalty System for Delta Air Lines
Mar. 3, From Page to Stage, meet the cast of Stewardess!

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Who are the women that you admire and feel gratitude towards?