Sheila Connors is breaking one of the last barriers to sexual equality, whistling down taxis and muscling suitcases at the elegant Plaza Hotel.
The 31-year-old aspiring actress and former police officer was hired for the busy holiday season, unaware she was blazing a trail as the first female doorman in the hotel’s 107-year-old history.
“I had no idea until once I went down to wardrobe to get fitted for a uniform,” Connors said. “Patsy, our wardrobe woman, told me they’d never had anything but men.”
Connors, who stands 5-foot-6 but looks taller in the black greatcoat and cap, had already proved her toughness in seven years working as a police officer in the Buffalo suburb of West Seneca. At the same time, she earned a degree in theater from Niagara University.
After graduating last May, she came to New York to try acting. Last month, she applied for the temporary job at the Plaza to make some money while she auditions.
Doormen at hotels, offices and apartment buildings are a familiar part of New York City life, but women doormen are rare.
Joseph Mancini, a spokesman for the local Service Employees International Union, which represents doormen, speculated that “there are security aspects to being a doorman, and men are traditionally thought of as more able in this field because of brawn.”
As Connors worked, it was clear that hauling big suitcases for male guests is a concept some of them will have to get used to.
“Some of them say, ‘Here, let me help you - that is heavy,”’ she said.
Connors’ pioneering work begs a delicate question of gender etiquette: Is it really proper for a woman to carry a man’s bags?
“Absolutely,” said etiquette maven Letitia Baldridge. “Those gender problems were dealt with 15 years ago.”
Still, Connors professes to be more concerned with opening doors than with breaking glass ceilings.
“I think I’m a feminist,” she said, “but I don’t want to be a man. I enjoy being the first woman. I enjoy the opportunity to do what men do.”