I found the first female dispatcher!
Welcome to my new blog! I am starting off the blog with a series seeking to answer the question: Who was the first female aircraft dispatcher in the United States? I had some ideas of the answer when I started this mini-research project.
Last week, I contacted FAA Historian, Terry Krause, and got a reply stating that she believes the first female dispatcher may have been someone named Alice L. Marston. The name was enough to kick start my search!
The first reference I found about Alice was from an issue of the Ninety-Nines publication AIRWOMAN from September-October 1934. This was published well before dispatchers were required to hold any certificate, as the certificate wasn’t created until 1937.
I started doing further research to determine if Alice was still dispatching in 1937, because on June 6, 1937, several hundred existing airline dispatchers were all certificated by the Bureau of Air Commerce. These newly minted aircraft dispatchers were the very first certificated dispatchers in the world. Back to Alice L. Marston – I found an article from the Ogden Standard-Examiner from May 29, 1938 that described Alice as “the first woman airline dispatcher in the country.“
Through some more research, I uncovered 1940 census records listing Alice as born in 1906 and married to Caleb J. Marston. Her daughter, Joan, was born in about 1932. The Ogden Standard-Examiner article states that Alice had worked since 1933 for Boston-Maine-Central Vermont Airways at Concord, New Hampshire. For work, she wore a “regulation blue uniform, service camp, and at her waist a leather-bolstered automatic” presumably to protect the ever-important mail.
The 1934 article about Alice says that she met planes in temperatures as low as 35 degrees below zero with snow banks 6 feet high on the sides of the runway. The article also states that she kept logs of each flight so that other dispatchers along the line were aware of the flight’s positions. A radio set was also mentioned, so there was some form of communication with the flights in progress. According to a description of Alice in the Baltimore and Ohio Magazine from May 1936: “Boss of the Concord Airport is Alice, and the pilots know it.”
According to the Ogden Standard-Examiner, Alice’s husband Caleb was an “airport official.” I found a patent from the late 1920s for an airfoil design attributed to Caleb J. Marston as well as an obscure reference to an airplane called “The Doodlebug” also tied to his work.
I can now picture Alice L. Marston as a woman whose husband was working in early aviation and who wanted to work alongside him, even though she had a young child born just a few years earlier. Wearing her uniform complete with sidearm, she met planes in the freezing cold and snow, probably staying in the dispatch position because she loved aviation as much as her husband. Because of how she was an airline dispatcher on June 6, 1937, I believe she truly was the first certificated aircraft dispatcher.
If you have any idea of where I can get more information about Alice L. Marston or her family or relations, I would love to hear from you! My next few posts will feature female dispatchers from the 1950s including the first “jet-qualified” female dispatcher at Pan Am. Until then, keep learning!