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Edith Lauterbach, 91; organized flight attendants union

WASHINGTON — Edith Lauterbach, the last survivor among the quintet of female flight attendants who in the 1940s organized the first union to fight for equal rights in the sky, died on Feb. 4 at 91.

She lived in San Francisco.

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A United Airlines flight attendant for more than four decades until retiringin 1986, Ms. Lauterbach saw her profession evolve from one emphasizing youth and beauty to one recognized for its grueling schedule.

When Ms. Lauterbach joined United in 1944, female flight attendants were called “coeds” and were subject to dismissal if they got married, were deemed overweight, or reached their early to mid-30s.

United, which hired the first ‘‘sky girl,’’ Ellen Church, in 1930, was the first to be challenged on its labor policies, according to Kathleen Barry’s book ‘‘Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants.’’

Ms. Lauterbach and three colleagues — Frances Hall, Sally Thometz, and Sally Watt — backed Ada Brown, United’s chief stewardess, when she began organizing in 1944. TheAir Line Stewardesses Association was founded on Aug. 22, 1945.

Ms. Lauterbach played an instrumental role in ending United’s standard retirement age of 32, according to a union statement.

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