Sunday, February 2

Margaret Davis Jacobson

Margaret Davis didn’t plan on taking to the skies when she graduated from high school in Silver City, New Mexico in 1936.  She began her studies at New Mexico State Teachers College, but after one year decided to switch to nursing.  Her family lived adjacent to the nurses’ residence at a remote Veterans Bureau hospital and she was strongly influenced by the nurses and the work they were doing.  That led her to Baylor University Hospital in Dallas, where she received her diploma in nursing in 1940, making the highest recorded score in the state on her board exams. She had to work at Baylor until she was 21 and could be licensed. She then worked with a pediatrician in Dallas.  In the meantime, her sister, Kay, was working for Southern Air Transport in El Paso. This was the time when C.R. Smith was in the process of gathering up small air line companies and organizing them into what was to become American Airlines. 
Kay told her that American was hiring nurses to be stewardesses in this new and exciting world of air transportation, and arranged an interview for Margaret with Newton K. Wilson, who was then supervisor of stewardesses, and later became president of Sky Chefs.  Wilson was known as a tough interviewer, and Margaret remembers not being particularly interested in the job initially.  She says she and Mr. Wilson didn’t exactly hit it off.  “What if we decide you’re not what we want?” he asked.  Margaret was taller than the average stewardess, at 5’7”, and she supposed that’s what he was referring to.  “Well”, she replied, I already have a job.” Despite that, Margaret soon received an offer to attend stewardess training in New York, in a letter signed by Wilson himself.
Most of her friends thought she was "very brave" to embark on this new career as there had been a series of accidents about this time including when "Johnny Martin set one down in a peach orchard in Ft. Worth on the day of my interview." To counteract the negatives, C.R. Smith took out a full page ad in major newspapers across the country entitled “Why Dodge this Question: Afraid to Fly?”  Other executives in the airline industry felt it was a mistake to address the issue so directly, but with characteristic insight, Smith thought if he wrote an honest message and entrusted potential passengers with the facts, fears would be allayed.  His strategy paid off, and the public headed back to the airports. Margaret remembers C.R. Smith as a “very friendly, outgoing and charming man, who always remembered everyone’s name. He was an amazing person.”
She was soon off to her new quarters at the Sanford Hotel in Flushing, New York, to be bussed to classes at the new LaGuardia Field. She excelled in training, receiving a 94 on her final exam.  As she stated, all the trainees were already nurses, so were expected to know how to handle people and difficult situations.  
 Margaret’s first base was Chicago, where it was so cold that she wore red long johns under her uniform skirt.  She was mostly successful in keeping them from showing, a challenge on the windy Chicago ramp.  As the most junior stewardess at the base, she was frequently assigned the “night owl”, between Chicago and New York, where one of her  frequent passengers was Jose Iturbi, a popular pianist and actor. He had a reputation for being somewhat temperamental, and he was often the only passenger on the flight. She distinctly remembers it was obvious that he did not want to be disturbed. He even brought his own lunch with him and worked on his music the whole flight. She said it was often hard to stay awake with nothing to keep her busy. Once when counting heads for meals from the back of the plane, she missed New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia as his head did not show above the seat back due to his short statue. In a panic, she told the pilots not to eat their meals until she checked with the Mayor. To her relief, he was to go to dinner on arrival and she and the pilots were saved. Later, while flying transcontintal on the DST Sky Sleeper, she met  the dashing actor Errol Flynn.    He was given the “sky room” berth, which was private and roomier than the others. She remembers him waking up in the morning, looking not quite like his glamorous image.  She asked if he would like some juice.  “I’ll take a cute little nurse on the half shell”, was his reply. “I’ll bring you juice and coffee,” Margaret responded.
Weather and mechanical cancellations were commonplace in those days, and the stewardess was responsible for accommodating the passengers, often booking train tickets when a flight was cancelled.  One time she remembers having to care for an unaccompanied child, taking the little girl with her to her layover hotel.  She opened the child’s suitcase to find only a doll and a hairbrush. Having slept on the plane from New York to Nashville, the young girl was bouncing around the room all night long, wanting to look out the window which had no screens.  “I was exhausted,” Margaret remembers. The next day all the passengers boarded the L and N railroad, popularly known as the “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and headed off to their destinations.
 Travelers have long complained about airline food, and apparently this originated during the DC3 days.  Although some meals were good, a favorite being a fried chicken box lunch which was prepared in home kitchens and delivered to the airport by the cook herself, (before the advent of Sky Chefs), many were not so popular.  Among the most notorious was Chicken a la king, served from a wide mouth thermos jug.  Margaret remembers opening the jug one summer day while flying over the New Mexico desert.  “Here it was, hot and bumpy, and that’s what we were serving for lunch—It looked like it had already been eaten.” She said she just couldn’t bear to serve it.  A lot of times over the desert passengers chose not to eat.
America’s entrance in to World War II greatly changed the airline industry. The mood was somber and serious, and everyone felt a great sense of duty.   Margaret remembers full fare passengers being bumped for military personnel, often at the last minute.  She also remembers flying a plane load of signal corps recruits, on an early morning flight from Ft. Worth’s Meacham Field, with all the window shades drawn. The soldiers had started in New York and  were not to know their destination. She thought they all looked extremely young and many were airsick.  When they made a fuel stop in Tucson, and the airplane door was opened for a few minutes, one of the young soldiers excitedly realized he was in his home town, and announced to the group, “Hey, I went to high school here.”  He was quickly reprimanded by a very stern sergeant, and hustled back to his seat.
Margaret had transferred to American’s Ft. Worth base by then, to get out of the cold. She soon met and began dating a first officer named Dick Jacobson.   Their relationship grew, and one day Margaret was called in to the flight administration office and asked for her resignation. She was shocked, and when she asked why, was told that one of the secretaries had seen a notice in the Ft. Worth Star Telegram. Turns out that First Officer Jacobson had applied for a marriage license, and his intended was Margaret Jane Davis. (He had not yet proposed.) Stewardesses were not allowed to be married,  so Margaret did resign and she and Dick were married in June, 1942.  At the time many other R.N. stewardesses resigned to join the military as there was a great need for nurses.  This was when American and other U.S. carriers dropped the requirement that stewardesses had to be registered nurses.

Their first base as a married couple was
Fort Worth and then El Paso, where Dick was one of the first pilots to fly American’s new route to Mexico City.  There was a brief time in Burbank and then back to Fort Worth, where their son Steve was born.  Dick then transferred to Nashville, where daughter Mary Clare was born five years later.  Margaret continued her nursing education while her children were growing up, earning a Ph.D. from Peabody College in Nashville.  She also taught at Vanderbilt while finishing her Ph.D.  Dick transferred to San Francisco and Margaret and Mary Clare joined him there. Steve was by then beginning his service in the U.S. Navy.  Margaret continued her nursing career, serving on the faculty at Stanford and the University of California at San Francisco and later was recruited to start the graduate program in nursing at San Jose State University. Both children followed in their parent’s footsteps, with Mary Clare earning her M.S. in nursing and Steve becoming an American Airlines and Flagship Detroit Captain.  Steve’s initial interest in the Flagship Detroit was sparked by his father’s logbook, which showed that Dick had flown NC17334, occasionally with Margaret as stewardess.
Margaret lives in Los Altos, California, near her daughter, son in law, and two grandsons.  She has a lively wit and it is a privilege to be around her and hear her fascinating stories about an exciting chapter in the history of American aviation.

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