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From crop dusting to the Widget: How one woman gave Delta its name

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Gazing upon Delta’s iconic Widget logo, you’d be forgiven for thinking the origins of our name stem solely from its namesake Greek letter. 

Its true origin, however, is lesser-known: “Delta” was suggested to airline founder C.E. Woolman by one of his most trusted associates, Catherine FitzGerald. She recommended an homage to the Mississippi Delta region where the airline’s predecessor, Huff Daland Dusters, got its start. The area’s rich agricultural roots run deep, with farming still an indelible aspect of its culture and character. 

FitzGerald moved to Monroe, Louisiana, in 1926 soon after Huff Daland relocated its operations (and 18 bi-planes) there. After Woolman led the purchase of what would become Delta in 1928, FitzGerald became one of his trusted associates and the company’s assistant treasurer. She also served as Woolman’s secretary until his death in 1966, and herself retired in 1968 after a more than 40-year career in aviation. 

For decades during her time as an officer at Delta, FitzGerald was one of only a few women on the company’s org charts. She also served on Delta’s Board of Directors from 1930-1934 – another rare feat for the time. (Her role as assistant treasurer was a fitting one. In a recommendation letter, a former boss said of FitzGerald: “I can tell you one thing, you won’t need an adding machine while you got her.”) 

Even in its humble beginnings, FitzGerald recalled Delta’s family atmosphere – one where everyone knew each other by first name and focused on unparalleled customer service. (In fact, she was lovingly known as “Miss Fitz” around Delta’s corporate offices.)  

“Mr. Woolman always impressed on any employee, especially those around the ticket counters. He’d always say, put yourself on the other side of the counter, you know, in dealing with the passengers. Just try and see how they must be thinking about it,” FitzGerald recalled in a 1976 interview. “That was an expression he used frequently. Now, remember, you just put yourself on the other side of the counter.” 

FitzGerald died in 1987. She had no direct descendants and lived modestly, according to a 1988 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article, donating a fortune in excess of $5 million (more than $13 million in today’s dollars) to various charitable organizations. 

In the years since FitzGerald was a company leader, Delta has committed itself to gender equity with an aim to increase representation of women at every level of the organization – making notable acceleration in representation in the vice president and above levels. As of January 2023, women represent 33.9% of Delta leaders at the V.P. level or above.  

 “Our diversity, equity and inclusion strategy continues to shape and advance the career journeys of Delta women,” said Delta Chief People Officer Joanne Smith. “Miss Fitz lit the flame for women and now we’re focused on carrying that torch by strengthening our talent pipeline, whether that’s through adopting more inclusive hiring practices to manage out unconscious bias or developing internal programs and external partnerships that introduce women to aviation as a career choice earlier in life.” 

Employees are encouraged to join SHE, a women-led business resource group, where they are empowered to share their experience, take part in professional development, and create plans to make Delta become the preferred employer for women. Delta prioritizes women-specific needs as part of the four-pronged well-being effort, which includes physical, financial, emotional and social. Delta also recognizes the value of women in leadership and has committed to closing the representation gap between women in frontline roles and leadership roles. 

The Forbes ranking reflects Delta’s ongoing efforts to be a great workplace for women in hiring and recruitment and executive representation.

“During Women’s History Month, we reflect on the contributions of leaders like Catherine FitzGerald whose influence and voice continue to be seen and heard all around the world thanks to Delta’s legacy,” 
said Allison Ausband, E.V.P. and Chief Customer Experience Officer. “It also serves as a reminder that our work is not done – let’s pay it forward, sharing our journeys and paving the way for the talented women who will come behind us.”  

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