Lori Wyer’s WS320 Blog


Jerrie Cobb, all smiles     The female pilots of Jerrie Cobb’s time had to endure severe discrimination.  Although they were somewhat respected because of their ability to fly, they still had to project a certain image.  They were told, “fill your plane with oil, get out your tool kit and fix anything that breaks in midair, but make sure your high heels are on and your lipstick is in place when you land” (Nolen, p 23).  These women actually flew with dresses and heels on! 

As female aviators, jobs were usually as commercial pilots or instructors.  They usually didn’t get the prestigious jobs of corporate pilot or jet test pilot.  Working in a predominantly male occupation, the Mercury 13 could not afford to be alienated any further by any suggestions that they could possibly be a lesbian.  If that were to happen, their careers would certainly be over.  So they were forced to play up their femininity so there was no mistake about it: these pilots were 100% woman!

The sign of the times was that the woman stayed at home and raised a family; at least this is what middle class Americans did.  It was the era of “Father Knows Best”, family barbeques and suburban living.  People were living the “American Dream”.  The husband was usually the sole provider.  If the wife did indeed work, she had to be sure that her job was not more prestigious than her husband’s.  And she certainly couldn’t make more money than he did.  (Although the wages for women were significantly lower than that of men.)

So why didn’t NASA want any women in the space program?  Simple: ignorance about the female body and no desire to know any different.  The general consensus was that a woman was in no way equal to a man.  Women could not tolerate the stressful situations imposed upon them by space flight.  They simply could not withstand the pressure that comes along with being an astronaut.  Their objectivity and judgment were questionable in stressful situations.  The “men in charge” didn’t feel as if anything could be learned by testing the women.  And they had no intention whatsoever of sending a woman into space.  That was a man’s job!

Sexist newspaper headlines were quite common after Jerrie’s initial testing:  “Moon Maid’s Ready!”, “Astronette!”  Jerrie Cobb’s initial media interviews consisted of questions about whether or not she was married and about her domestic abilities.  Reporters had a very difficult time believing that a woman could do what she did.  They couldn’t concentrate on her flying abilities and accomplishments alone, they had to investigate her feminine qualities as well.

With the election of John F. Kennedy as president in 1960 came the beginning of some change in the United States.  Kennedy was considered to be a new generation of president.  No longer were things to remain status quo; he vowed to tackle the problems of inequality that have long been a problem in the United States.  On the top of his agenda was addressing the issues of civil rights and enabling more people to be in the position to live the American dream (Nolen, p 164).

1961 marked the Rosa Parks and Woolworth’s civil rights incidents, the birthrate had finally dropped (after the Baby Boom), the age of marriage increased, “The Feminine Mystique” was introduced, and women walked out of the jobs and homes for the “Women Strike for Peace”.  Additionally, Kennedy established the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, which would ultimately recommend equal pay for equal pay, paid maternity leave, and child care.  Three years later, it would also become illegal to not hire a woman for a job simply because she was a woman (Nolen, p 164).

The Early Years

Jerrie the Astronaut

What Happened to the Women-in-Space Program?

Awards and Honors


Technology at the Time

Jerrie Now





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