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Jerrie Cobb

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Jerrie Cobb with a Mercury space capsule

Jerrie Cobb with a Mercury space capsule

Courtesy NASA

Jerrie Cobb Facts:

Known for: first woman to pass NASA's astronaut testing; not selected as an astronaut because NASA had a policy against women astronauts
Occupation: pilot
Dates: March 5, 1931 -
Also known as: Geraldyn Cobb

Jerrie Cobb Biography:

Geraldyn or Jerrie Cobb was born in Oklahoma. Living on Sheppard Army Air Base in 1943, her father bought a 1936 Waco bi-wing to get flying hours so he could qualify to fly with the Air Force. He took his daughter on one flight, and she became interested herself in flying, so he began to teach her to fly. He was then transferred to Colorado, and, because he'd sold the plane in the move, Jerrie Cobb worked at small airports and took lessons from a flight instructor who was the football coach at her high school.

Her sixteenth birthday was also the day she got her pilot's license. By eighteen, Jerrie Cobb was a professional pilot. But flying jobs were scarce, especially for women, as World War II ended and military pilots were given preference. She played semiprofessional women's softball and attended Oklahoma College for Women for a year -- but kept up with her flying, earning flight and ground instructor ratings. A 3-year romance with another pilot ended when his airplane exploded over the Pacific. In 1950, Jerrie Cobb got a job as an instructor in Oklahoma, and then worked as a charter pilot.

Moving to Florida, she was able first to find only office work, then work as an international ferry pilot. Between weather and wars, she had exciting experiences, spending two weeks in an Ecuadorian military prison and training a pilot to fly the plane that then picked up Juan Peron to take him to exile.

For her next job, she was a pilot in Kansas City, and then became a test pilot in 1957, breaking a number of world records. In 1959, she won several awards, including Pilot of the Year from the National Pilots' Association, and NASA selected her for astronaut testing.

Beginning her NASA testing in 1960, Jerrie Cobb did well -- in the top 5% of all those who took the tests. She was asked to help recruit women astronaut candidates, and 25 more women pilots were tested. Twelve other women then passed the initial astronaut tests. The program was dubbed First Lady Astronaut Trainees, or FLAT; the group is often referred to as the Mercury 13.

But they were not to fly in space: NASA, which had apparently expected the women to fail the tests, made a policy decision not to select any women as astronauts. Congressional hearings in 1962 didn't change this policy -- even though the husband of one of the candidates, Senator Philip Hart, advocated for the inclusion of women.

NASA closed down the program testing women candidates for astronaut training in 1963, the same year Valentina Tereshkova, a Russian cosmonaut, became the first woman in space.

Jerrie Cobb became involved for the next 35 years in a missionary program to bring medical supplies and other humanitarian relief to indigenous people in Amazonia, including Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.

Background, Family:

  • Mother: Helena Stone Cobb
  • Father: Harvey Cobb
  • Siblings: one older sister

Awards include:

  • Amelia Earhart Memorial Award
  • Amelia Earhart Medal
  • Pilot of the Year
  • Woman of the Year in Aviation
  • Oklahoma Hall of Fame
  • Harmon Trophy
  • Nominated for Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work in Amazonia

Bibliography:

Jerrie Cobb with Jane Riecker. Woman Into Space: The Jerrie Cobb Story. 1962.

Jerrie Cobb. Jerrie Cobb, Solo Pilot. 1997.

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