A message from Oscar celebrating Women's History Month
The Wright Brothers — of course, everyone has heard of them; their names are synonymous with the invention of flight.
Yet, few people know that there was also a Wright Sister: Katharine Wright.
"If ever the world thinks of us in connection with aviation," said her brother Wilbur, "it must remember our sister." Katharine played an important role in her brothers' success, and she became one of the first women ever to fly, all while taking a leading role in the women's suffrage movement of the era.
Yet, as is too often the case, the enormous contributions that women like Katharine have played in the history of aviation become eclipsed in our memory. In addition to Katharine Wright, pioneers such as Blanche Scott, Bessie Coleman, and Amelia Earhart — among so many others — helped push humanity into the skies and further toward equality.
As America observes Women's History Month in March, we at United also celebrate the unique part we've played in the story of women in aviation. For example, it was an intrepid young reporter for the Chicago Herald-Examiner named Jane Eads who, on July 2, 1927, boarded a flight from Chicago to San Francisco. That flight would make her America's first official airline passenger, as well as the very first passenger of a carrier service that would eventually become United Airlines.
It was a woman named Ada Brown Greenfield, hired by United Airlines in 1940 as a flight attendant, who successfully organized her colleagues to form the world's first union of flight attendants. That organization has grown in to the Association of Flight Attendants that represents the interests of more than 50,000 airline professionals across the industry.
And it was a United Airlines pilot named M'Lis Ward who broke another barrier in aviation to become the first African American woman to earn the status of captain of a major US airline.
These women were not just pioneers of flight, but of social equality and progress as well.
Despite the vital role that women have played in the aviation and airline industry, there are still too few young women who choose to pursue careers in the field. We are determined to change that and make sure that more young women see the exciting future they can forge in this cutting-edge industry. That's why each year women in positions of leadership throughout the United family dedicate their time and talents in an effort to inspire the next generation of girls to explore their interests in the aviation field.
Our focus on recruiting, retaining, and empowering the talented women of our industry is an imperative and ongoing mission. It is one that has shown great success, especially thanks to the inspiring efforts of such accomplished aviators as Captain Bebe O'Neil, our Chief Pilot in Houston. "As a little girl, I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon," says Captain O'Neil. "It left such an indelible impression on me when they said he was an aerospace engineer and naval aviator, and it got me interested in aviation since childhood."
Neil Armstrong may have taken one small step for a man, but he inspired a lifelong path for Bebe as a young woman. Now, she is dedicated to inspiring and empowering a new generation of young women to reach for the skies.
We all have further to go before each of our sisters and daughters have the same opportunities for success as their brothers and sons. In whatever field their passion and talents lead them, we ought to take this month to rededicate ourselves to ensuring that the skies are truly the limit for young women everywhere.
Oscar Munoz, CEO, United Airlines