‘Wow, what a ride’

MacLeran has lived an adventurous, trail-blazing life

     “There are winds of destiny that blow when we least expect them. Sometimes they gust with the fury of a hurricane, sometimes they barely fan one’s cheek. But the winds cannot be denied, bringing as they often do a future that is impossible to ignore.” Nicholas Sparks, Message in a Bottle


At the ripe old age of 16, immediately after her high school graduation in 1936, at the height of the Great Depression, Margaret left for Minneapolis to begin work at St. Mary’s Hospital. Too young to begin nurses’ training (you had to be 18), she assisted the nurses and the nuns. Her first encounter with global figures came by chance, and it seemed to set the course for meeting many famous people throughout her life.

The nuns were all aflutter when they learned that Cardinal Pachelli, destined to become Pope, would be visiting St. Mary’s Hospital, where the 16-year-old Margaret was working as a nurse’s aid. This was the time when Hitler was beginning his reign of terror. Out of all the nuns who could have brought breakfast to the future Pope, it was Margaret, a Lutheran nurse’s aid, who would later become a registered nurse, who was chosen to serve. Timid? Possibly. However, MacLeran entered the future Pope’s room and served him breakfast. “I had only read about him in the newspapers,” she smiled. He went on to become Pope Pius XII, the pope from 1939-1958.

Margaret  was working as an OR (operating room) nurse at St. Mary’s in 1940 when the word came out that American Airlines representatives were in downtown Minneapolis, recruiting stewardesses. Margaret had never flown, yet she had the one requirement needed to become a stewardess. She was a registered nurse. And, out of all of her friends who applied, Margaret was the only one who got “the” job.

In 1940, 3,500 women asked American Airlines for a stewardess job, and only 1,500 met the basic requirements of age (21 – 26), height (5 feet 2 inches – 5 feet 6 inches), weight (100 – 125 pounds), good looks and a pleasant personality. And, you couldn’t be married.

She was 21 years old. Margaret believes that a great part of the reason why she got the job was that she could answer current events questions. “Who is Mussolini’s son-in-law? Who is the pope?”… (Referring back to her chance meeting with Cardinal Pachelli) and, “Who is the senator?” Once she answered all questions correctly, the next question was, “When can you be in New York?” She left Minnesota right after the Armistice Day storm.

And, adventures began immediately. During her training, Margaret lived with two roommates in a hotel in Flushing, N.Y., near LaGuardia Airport. They took the bus to the airport daily for the three-week training, which included classes in weather and airplane facts (unique to the airplane). Her salary started at $110 a month, working 115 hours a month, of which 85 hours were flight time.

My first flight from New York was into Wilkes-Barre, PA. I served cookies and remember keeping myself busy. Nobody really wanted food, but I made everyone drink coffee or tea and have a cookie.” Other memorable trips were with the Long Island University basketball team. Margaret explained, “One of the mothers hugged me and begged me to please take care of her son.” The boys on the team were the same age as Margaret ,and she was able to attend their games as they played Michigan and Notre Dame, to name a few.


Since flying was so new, the only people who flew were the ones that had to. Most were wealthy, CEOs of large companies, movie stars and politicians. “We picked up FDR Jr. in Boston and flew him to D.C. He went to Harvard at the time, and he asked me to go to a play with him. We went to the theater, Ruth Draper’s one-woman show. The show was over at 10 p.m., and since all the restaurants were closed, we went to the White House for a bite to eat. We went downstairs to the kitchen and rustled up some breakfast.”

She met Sen. Shipstead, from Alexandria, who was a friend of FDR before World War II, when politicians were debating whether the United States should send war materials to England. Proposed in late 1940 and passed in March 1941, the Lend-Lease Act was the principal means for providing U.S. military aid to foreign nations during World War II. It authorized the president to transfer arms or any other defense materials for which Congress appropriated money to “the government of any country whose defense the President deems vital to the defense of the United States.” By allowing the transfer of supplies without compensation to Britain, China, the Soviet Union and other countries, the act permitted the United States to support its war interests without being overextended in battle. (www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/lend-lease-act).

“During the six-month period when we flew from New York to Washington, D.C., I was able to sit in the gallery and listen as the Senate debated the lend-lease issue. It was an amazing time.” She met New York mayor LaGuardia, who wanted to know all about her family back in Minnesota and who was a great fan of the “funny-pages.”

“After I had been in New York for six months, I was transferred to Fort Worth to fly the sleepers, for cross-country flights,” she explained.


The sleeper airplanes were configured differently than the other DC-3s. To fly cross-country, seats were converted so people could sleep in beds overnight. This kind of plane was called a DST – a Douglas Sleeper Transport – and could hold 14 people. At the time, stewardesses were on their own as staff, not including the pilot and co-pilot. “I never flew with anyone else helping in the cabin. During flight, if the pilot needed something from the stewardess he would ring a bell, three rings meant I should come to the cockpit,” Margaret explained. As a stewardess, Margaret was required to address each passenger by name after she saw their name on the manifest with their seat assignment. She was expected to say, “Good-bye, Mr. Jones” or “Mrs. Smith, here is your lunch.” Margaret added, “That was the hardest part of the job! But the most important part of my job was the safety of the passengers.”

Among the many famous people Margaret helped were Eleanor Roosevelt and Clark Gable. She had an interesting flight with Clark Gable; the story involved his full set of false-teeth. On another flight he talked to Margaret about trying to find his wife, Carole Lombard’s jewelry, specifically a ring he had given her. (Lombard was killed in a TWA flight. He never found the jewelry).

“He was just very talkative and charming. He was a man’s man,” she smiled. Gable liked to sit with the pilots during landings and takeoff. He sat in the jump-seat between the pilot and co-pilot. Margaret added, “This was against FAA regulations, but I guess they allowed it anyway. We had very personal connections with our passengers. Errol Flynn, who was on several flights, gave me the keys to his yacht before he left for Spain to film a new movie, and my girlfriend and I had a nice sun-bath on his boat. Tyrone Power and his wife were also very endearing.”

Eleanor Roosevelt told Margaret (several times) not to be a stewardess, and instead, join the Army Air Nurses.

“She was a lovely person who travelled without a secretary. She thought I was wasting my time and talent as a stewardess. And, I was wearing nylon stockings, which she didn’t think was very patriotic during the war,” explained Margaret. During the war Eleanor Roosevelt was responsible for eliminating the registered nurse qualification for airline stewardesses.

She was a lovely lady, very sweet. She’d board our plane and say, ‘You again?’ She was always writing. She had a column My Day in the newspapers and was also on the radio. She borrowed a pen that was given to me by my father, with my initials. When she put it in her purse I had to ask for it and go through her purse to find it myself,” laughed Margaret. “I wasn’t about to let her leave with my pen!”

World War II shut down the DST flights, and Margaret’s flying days changed considerably.  “The sleepers had been taken out of service early in the war because the airline couldn’t afford to have an airplane that would carry only 21 people.”

During the war airplanes were manufactured in San Diego or Los Angeles. Pilots ferried those planes to the East Coast where those airplanes were put on ships and sent to England. Margaret explained, “Those (ferry) pilots, including female pilots, had to go back and forth to get more planes. The only time they slept was on our flights going back to the West Coast. We ferried pilots all through the war going from east to west.”

Yes, the war changed everything. Margaret recalled coming into Burbank on flights back to California. “The Burbank airport was covered with camouflage netting. There was just a little open place for an airplane to come in and take off; otherwise, the whole field was covered. People were very worried about being bombed.” Passengers were not allowed to peek out the window during landings. If they did, they were to be reported.

O. M. “Mac” MacLeran met Margaret Hove while both were working for American Airlines. “I met him at a swimming pool. I was wearing a two-piece swimming suit, which was unheard of back in the day,” she laughed with a twinkle in her eye. The couple married in 1942, and because stewardesses were required to be single, Margaret’s job with the airlines was over.


From Fort Worth the family moved to Glendale, Calif., where the couple’s second son, Tom, was born. Their next move with American Airlines was to Chicago, living there for the next 33 years, followed by one last transfer to Seattle, where they lived for another 25 years.

Margaret continued her career as a surgical nurse throughout her life. She also volunteered at the Morton (salt) Arboretum while living in Chicago. Doug now lives in Bellevue, Wash., and Tom lives in Nashville. She has one grandson who lives in Montana. Mac died in 1990, and upon his death, Margaret returned to her hometown of Alexandria. “I can’t begin to tell you all of the highlights of far-away countries and cities and people, of travel, adventures and various culture,” she said.

At 97 years of age Margaret admits her life has been charmed and blessed beyond even what she might have imagined back when she was 16 years old. “I really have had a wonderful life. One thing I do know, at 97 I still have something to offer.”

To use a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, we might describe Margaret by adding one more thing, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

#AmericanAirlines #EarlyStewardess #MargaretMacLeran

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