Papers of Jerrie Cobb, 1931-2012 (inclusive), 1954-2005 (bulk)
Photographs, clippings, and correspondence of Jerrie Cobb, an aviator, Mercury 13 astronaut, and advocate of women's participation in the space program.
- Majority of material found within 1954-2005
Language of Materials
Materials in English.
Access. Collection is open for research. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Jerrie Cobb is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.
Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.
Extent5.17 linear feet ((5 file boxes, 1 folio+ box, 1 oversize box) plus 2 folio folders, 37 photograph folders, 2 folio photograph folders, 303 slides, 9 videotapes, 1 DVD)
The papers of Jerrie Cobb document Cobb's professional life, highlighting her career as a pilot and her participation in Mercury 13, including her attempts to be the first woman in space, the public impact of her career, and her humanitarian work flying medicine and food to remote parts of the Amazon. Materials include clippings; photographs; correspondence; screenplays based on her life; certificates; flying charts; color slides; videotapes; t-shirts; etc. Much of the clippings, photographs, and correspondence were originally housed in binders. According to Ruth Lummis of the Jerrie Cobb Foundation who helped coordinate the donation of Cobb's papers to the Schlesinger Library, the binders were compiled by friends and volunteers over the years and their dates and contents overlap. The archivist disassembled the binders and albums but for the most part retained the original order of the material. While some duplicates have been removed, additional duplicates and similar types of materials can be found throughout the collection. Original titles, which were taken from the binders or from the original container list provided by the donor, have been retained when possible and are in quotes. Other folder titles were created by the archivist.
Series I, PROFESSIONAL, 1930s-2012 (#1.1-5.7, FD.1-FD.2, 6F+B.1m-6F+B.4m, 7OB.1-7OB.5. SD.1), includes extensive clippings, correspondence, writings, photographs, press releases, t-shirts, and printed materials documenting Cobb's role in the space program, her astronaut training, her flying career, and her work in the Amazon. The series chronicles the course of Cobb's professional life, highlighting her achievements as a pilot and astronaut particularly from the perspective of others, such as reporters, the public, friends, and colleagues. Articles about Cobb from the 1950s and 1960s often focus on Cobb's feminine qualities and physical attributes, sometimes making references to Cobb's strongly held Christian beliefs. Some clippings also reference the presence of the space race, with both Soviet and American newspaper articles profiling Valentina Tereshkova, the Soviet cosmonaut who would beat Cobb to be the first woman in space (1963). Also included in this series are letters from the public, supporters, colleagues, etc.; multiple screenplays written about Cobb's life; and a flight crew checklist, flight log, and navigational charts related to her work in the Amazon. Of additional note are publicity materials, letters of endorsement, letters to legislators and the White House requesting support, and the subsequent responses from NASA officials, all written during the time that Cobb advocated for her second opportunity to fly into space in the 1990s (Space II). This series also includes the evaluation of Cobb's astronaut test results (#2.8), summary of Cobb's test results (#2.10), and transcript of the hearing with Cobb and Hart before the House Subcommittee in 1962 (#2.13). There are also letters from and photographs with Cobb and her fiancé Jack Ford from the 1950s. Ford was a former World War II pilot who worked for Fleetway, Inc., and gave Cobb her first job ferrying aircraft. They were engaged for two years when he was killed in an airplane accident. Series is arranged alphabetically.
Series II, PHOTOGRAPHS, 1931?-2000s (#PD.1-PD.47), includes photographs, slides, and negatives documenting Cobb's astronaut training, her career as a pilot, and her flights ferrying supplies and aid to indigenous peoples in South America. The bulk of the series consists of publicity images of Cobb at promotional and award events or receptions surrounding her world record flights. Also included are snapshots from her trips to the Amazon, including with tribal peoples and views from the airplane; other travel to foreign locales; with Jack Ford; as well as a few family photographs, including images of Cobb as a young child. (See also #PD.1 for images of Cobb as a child and with family). Additionally, there is a slide show created by the Jerrie Cobb Foundation possibly for promotional or fundraising purposes: "Amazonas. Airlift: The Jerrie Cobb Story," documenting Cobb's humanitarian work. A small amount of non-photographic materials found in the photograph binders/albums were removed and added to Series I. See Series I for additional photographs. In the inventory, the term "photograph binder" indicates the original photographs were sleeved in a three-ring binder, while "photograph album" indicates a more traditional photograph album. Series is arranged chronologically.
Series III, AUDIOVISUAL, 1930s-2012 (#Vt-260.1-Vt-260.9, DVD-147.1), includes VHS, Betacam SP, and one DVD. The bulk of the materials consists of television interviews and profiles of Cobb as well as other Mercury 13 pilots when they achieved public attention around the time of John Glenn's return to space on the Shuttle Discovery mission in 1998. These televised segments were compiled by the Jerrie Cobb Foundation as part of the publicity campaign to promote Cobb's second attempt for space flight. In many of the segments Cobb discusses her desire to fly into space and the current efforts by others to secure her ability to do so. Also included are videotapes of archival footage of some of the astronaut tests that Cobb underwent, and footage related to Cobb's speed and distance records. See descriptions under Vt-260.1 and Vt-260.2 for more information. There is some duplication among the tapes. Series is arranged chronologically.
Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online.
Aviator Jerrie Cobb was born in Norman, Oklahoma, on March 5, 1931, the daughter of Lieutenant Colonel William H. Cobb and Helene Butler Stone Cobb. Cobb had one older sister, Carolyn. Jerrie Cobb's father taught her to fly a biplane at age twelve and by age sixteen she was flying the Piper J-3 Cub, a popular light aircraft. At seventeen years old, while attending Classen High School in Oklahoma City, Cobb earned her private pilot's license and she earned her commercial pilot's license the following year. In 1948, Cobb attended Oklahoma College for Women for one year. A devout Christian, Cobb studied religion and philosophy.
While still in her twenties, Cobb became the first woman to fly in the Paris Air Show, the world's largest air exposition, where she was awarded the Amelia Earhart Gold Medal of Achievement. In 1953, Cobb worked for Fleetway, Inc., ferrying war surplus aircraft to other countries, including to the Peruvian Air Force. In 1955, Cobb was hired as a pilot and manager for Aero Design and Engineering Company based in Oklahoma, which made the Aero Commander aircraft. By 1960, Cobb had set world aviation records for speed, distance, and altitude flying in Aero Commander airplanes.
In 1959, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientist Dr. William Randolph Lovelace selected Cobb, along with 24 other women who were trained pilots, to undergo the same physical and psychological tests that were used to choose the first seven Mercury astronauts. Dr. Lovelace administered these tests through the First Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLAT) program without official NASA approval. Cobb was the first among twelve other women trainees to pass the training exercises. The group became known as the Mercury 13.
The Mercury 13 campaigned to be a part of NASA's astronaut program but the agency remained opposed to the idea and continued to restrict its official astronaut training program to men. In 1961, NASA Administrator James Webb appointed Cobb as a consultant to NASA's space program, but this role did not include space flight. In 1962 Cobb, with fellow Mercury 13 astronaut Jane Hart, testified at a Congressional hearing about allowing American women to fly into space, but the American space program's astronaut corps would remain closed to women until 1978.
By 1964, Cobb left NASA and spent the next fifty years operating an airlift service to indigenous peoples in remote areas of the Amazon. Cobb flew missionary and humanitarian missions, including delivering food, medicine, and other aid. These missions were funded by the Jerrie Cobb Foundation, Inc. Based in Florida, the Jerrie Cobb Foundation was a non-profit organization founded by a group of Cobb's Oklahoma friends in 1968 specifically to provide funds for Cobb's humanitarian missions.
Around 1998, at the time of John Glenn's return flight to space in the Shuttle Discovery mission, Cobb renewed her efforts to convince NASA to include her in the space program. Although Cobb garnered public support for her mission, NASA once again did not provide Cobb with the opportunity for space flight.
Cobb published two memoirs, Woman Into Space: The Jerrie Cobb Story with co-author Jane Rieker (1963) and Jerrie Cobb, Solo Pilot (1997). Throughout her career, Cobb received many awards and accolades, including the Amelia Earhart Medal, the Harmon Trophy for world's best woman pilot, the Pioneer Woman Award, the Bishop Wright Air Industry Award, and many other decorations and distinctions for her humanitarian service. Cobb was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (1981) and was inducted into the Oklahoma State Hall of Fame, the Oklahoma Aviation and Space Hall of Fame (1990), the Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame (2000), and the National Aviation Hall of Fame (2012).
Cobb died at her home in Florida on March 18, 2019.
The collection is arranged in three series:
- Series I. Professional, 1930s-2012 (#1.1-5.7, FD.1-FD.2, 6F+B.1m-6F+B.4m, 7OB.1-7OB.5, SD.1)
- Series II. Photographs, 1931?-2000s (#PD.1-PD.47)
- Series III. Audiovisual, 1930s-2012 (#Vt-260.1-Vt-260.9, DVD-147.1)
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Accession numbers: 2013-M126; 2013-M151
The papers of Jerrie Cobb were given to the Schlesinger Library by Jerrie Cobb in 2013.
Processed: March 2019
By: Laura Peimer, with assistance from Ashley Thomas.
The Schlesinger Library attempts to provide a basic level of preservation and access for all collections and does more extensive processing of higher priority collections as time and resources permit. Finding aids may be updated periodically to account for new acquisitions to the collection and/or revisions in arrangement and description.
- Air Pilots--United States
- Amazon River Region
- DVD-Video discs
- Humanitarian assistance--Amazon River Region
- South America
- Space flight training facilities--United States
- Space race
- Women air pilots--United States
- Women astronauts--United States
- Women in aeronautics--United States
- Cobb, Jerrie. Papers of Jerrie Cobb, 1931-2012 (inclusive), 1954-2005 (bulk): A Finding Aid
- Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
- Language of description
- Processing of this collection was made possible by Radcliffe Class of 1956 and the Mary Mitchell Wood Manuscript Processing Fund.
- EAD ID
Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository
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