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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.

Biographies

Jane “Janey” Briggs Hart

Janey Hart’s love of aviation flew hand in hand with another of her passions: women’s rights. Her penchant for political activism awakened when she was still a student in high school. By the late 1940s, she was directly involved in politics, organizing grassroots Democratic campaigns and calling government officials to express her opinions.

She had 19 years of piloting experience under her belt before joining the Mercury 13 project. She was a captain in the Civil Air Patrol, could fly a helicopter and also captained her own sailboat. In the late 1950s, when her husband, Philip Hart, was been elected to be a U.S. senator of Michigan, the family moved to Washington D.C. But she made it clear that she didn’t want being a senator’s wife to be her fulltime job.

Hart was recommended for astronaut training by Bernice "B" Steadman, an old friend from the Michigan Chapter of the Ninety-Nines, an international women’s flying group. She was 40 years old when she began testing at the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, N.M., and was the oldest of those who made the cut for Mercury 13. Her eight children were between the ages of 4 and 14 when she left Washington D.C. for the weeklong testing. Prior to leaving, she loaded up the freezer with roasts and vegetables for her family.

She viewed the dismissal of the Mercury 13 women as part of a larger system of social bias that restricted women’s opportunities. She and Jerrie Cobb, the first candidate to qualify for astronaut training, went on to campaign in Washington for the program to continue. They contacted President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson, attended hearings and testified on behalf of the Mercury 13 women.

On June 18, 1983, when Sally Ride became the first American woman launched into space, Hart was the only member of Mercury 13 on hand to watch the shuttle lift off. In February 1995, she and seven other Mercury 13 women were welcomed as guests of Lt. Col. Eileen Collins as she became the first female to pilot a space shuttle.

Download Jane “Janey” Briggs Hart commendation (pdf)