Honoring the Mercury 13 Women
May 12, 2007 * UW Oshkosh Spring Commencement

Before Sally Ride, Christa McAuliffe and Eileen Collins, courageous women were setting new records and conquering new horizons. Though largely unrecognized in history, the Mercury 13 women showed their determination, strength and bravery in the Space Race with accomplishments that paved the way for generations. The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh is proud to recognize the pioneering spirit of these women with honorary Doctor of Science—honoris causa—degrees.


Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb

Born in Oklahoma in 1931, Jerrie Cobb took her first flight at the age of 12, in the backseat of an open-cockpit biplane flown by her father. Hooked on flying, she gained her private pilot's license at age 17, her commercial pilot's license when she was 18 and flight instructor’s rating soon thereafter.

She was determined to pursue a career in aviation as a pilot, a difficult feat in the 1950s. Working at the Miami airport, Cobb met Jack Ford, a veteran pilot of WWII who had a service ferrying aircraft worldwide. She talked him into a job, and her first stop was South America on the advanced trainer of that era, the AT-6 Texan. While ferrying aircraft for this firm, she flew all types of aircraft worldwide, including sleek military aircraft and four-engine bombers to France.

Her many flight hours earned Cobb a wonderful reputation in the aviation community, and she was perhaps the most experienced high-performance propeller aircraft pilot of her day. She’d flown crop dusters, gliders, blimps and B-17s. She’d earned world records for speed, altitude and distance. And by 1960, she had 10,000 flying hours, compared to John Glenn’s 5,000.

This lead to her invitation to the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, N.M.—the same clinic and doctors and the same program that selected the astronauts who later became the Mercury 7. Cobb’s early selection by the Mercury Astronaut Selection Team made her the first, and only, woman to undergo and successfully pass all three phases of Mercury astronaut tests. Denied a chance to go into space due to gender and the “accepted social order of their time” (as quoted by John Glenn), she became a consultant for NASA, but quit after finding she had no impact.

Cobb then embarked on a new career in the Amazon jungles as a missionary pilot, for which she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1981.

Download Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb commendation (pdf)