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Astronaut Wives Club

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Astronaut Wives Club was an informal support group of women, sometimes called Astrowives, whose husbands were members of the Mercury 7 group of astronauts. The group included Annie Glenn, Betty Grissom, Louise Shepard, Trudy Cooper, Marge Slayton, Rene Carpenter, and Jo Schirra.


Throughout the middle of the twentieth century, the Cold War tensions between the United States of America and the Soviet Union heightened.[1] In an effort to boost American citizens' confidence in their government, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower decided to become involved in the Space Race and in the late 1950s launched Project Mercury.[1] Seven young men were chosen for this space mission. The astronauts were presented to the public as wholesome all-American heroes and their wives as icons of domestic patriotism.[2] While their husbands were working at Cape Canaveral, Florida, the women were living in Houston, many as next-door-neighbors.[3] The wives formed a tight-knit support group called the "Astronaut Wives Club".[4] They took turns hosting "launch parties"— potlucks to provide an atmosphere of support for each other whenever there was a launch.[3]


The women "rocketed to fame",[3] becoming celebrities overnight, and were influential in shaping American identity.[4] During this time of national anxiety, Americans were encouraged to find security in values of family, patriotism, and consumerism as embodied in the astronauts' wives.[1][4] According to Lily Koppel there was a prevalent understanding that women needed to pursue a healthy marriage and family life as a way to support the United States during the Cold War.[4] According to Tom Wolfe, the author of the 1979 book The Right Stuff, NASA marketed the astronaut wives as "seven flawless cameo-faced dolls sitting in the family room with their pageboy bobs in place, ready to offer any and all aid to the brave lads".[5] Life magazine bought exclusive rights to the women's stories, publishing a series of first-person stories by the women in its September 21, 1959, issue.[5][6]

When the Mercury 7 astronauts were given sporty Corvettes to drive, the wives were strongly encouraged to keep their family-friendly station wagons, which meant that the average American housewives who were following the astronaut wives' example also bought station wagons.[4]

Notable 'Astronaut Wives'

Annie Glenn was born Anna Margaret Castor in Columbus, Ohio, on Feb. 17, 1920, to Homer and Margaret Castor. The family moved to nearby New Concord, Ohio, where John Glenn's family lived, and the two became childhood playmates. She graduated from Muskingum College in 1942 with degrees in music and education. She and Glenn married in 1943 and had two children. She had stuttered badly from childhood and in 1973 received successful treatment and in 1979 gave her first speech. She became an advocate for people with speech disorders and an adjunct professor of speech pathology at Ohio State University. In 1987, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association created an annual award in her honor. She was widowed in 2016 and died May 19, 2020, aged 100, due to complications from COVID-19.[7]

Louise Shepard was nicknamed "First Lady in Space" when her husband Alan Shepard became the first astronaut into space.[3] She became "the group’s first fashion icon", and clothing stores sold the outfit she wore to the White House to celebrate the launch.[3]

Jo Schirra, born in Seattle to Donald and Josephine Fraser, married naval aviator Wally Schirra in 1946.[8] She died on April 27, 2015.[8]

Rene Carpenter and her children at a press conference

Rene Carpenter, born Rene Price, met Scott Carpenter when she was working as an usherette at a theater.[9] They married in Boulder, Colorado, on September 9, 1948.[9] In November 1949 she had their first child, Scott Jr., and thirteen months later their second child, Tim, who died at six months while they were living in San Diego, where her husband was in flight training.[9] The couple had three more children.[9] The Washington Post in 1961 described her as a "striking platinum blonde".[10] Life ran a first-person feature on her experience during the launch of Aurora 7.[11] She and Scott Carpenter divorced, and she moved with their children to Bethesda, Maryland.[10] She had a syndicated newspaper column entitled "A Woman, Still" and from 1972 through 1976 was a TV presenter, first with Everywoman and then with Nine in the Morning.[10] She worked for the Committee for National Health Insurance.[10] She later married Lester Shor, a real estate developer.[10]

The wives of the Next Nine astronauts, chosen in 1962, began meeting in December 1963.[12] The Next Nine or New Nine wives included Pat White, Marilyn See, Marilyn Lovell, Susan Borman, Jane Conrad, Jan Armstrong, Faye Stafford, Barbara Young, and Pat McDivitt.[12]

In media

A 1998 miniseries, From the Earth to the Moon, produced by Tom Hanks, featured an episode written by Sally Field, "The Original Wives Club", about the Next Nine group.[12]

A 2013 New York Times bestseller, The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel, was written about them.[13] A 2015 television miniseries based on the book was also named The Astronaut Wives Club.

List of oft-referenced "astronaut wives"

Astronaut Group First spouse Astronaut Fate of marriage
Group 1 (Mercury 7) Rene Price (1948) Scott Carpenter Separated 1968; Divorced 1972
Trudy Olson (1947) Gordon Cooper Divorced 1970
Annie Castor (1943) John Glenn Never divorced
Betty Moore (1945) Gus Grissom Widowed 1967 (Apollo 1)
Josephine Fraser (1946) Wally Schirra Never divorced
Louise Brewer (1945) Alan Shepard Never divorced
Marjorie Lunney (1955) Deke Slayton Divorced 1978
Group 2 (New Nine) Jan Shearon (1956) Neil Armstrong Divorced 1994
Susan Bugbee (1950) Frank Borman Never divorced
Jane DuBose (1953) Pete Conrad Divorced 1988
Marilyn Gerlach (1952) Jim Lovell Never divorced
Patricia Haas (1957) Jim McDivitt Divorced 1989
Marilyn Denahy (1954) Elliot See Widowed 1966 (T-38 crash)
Faye Shoemaker (1953) Tom Stafford Divorced 1985
Pat Finegan (1953) Ed White Widowed 1967 (Apollo 1)
Barbara White (1956) John Young Divorced 1972
Group 3 Joan Archer (1954) Buzz Aldrin Divorced 1974
Valerie Hoard (1954) Bill Anders Never divorced
Jeannie Martin (1955) Charlie Bassett Widowed 1966 (T-38 crash)
Sue Ragsdale Alan Bean Divorced 1976
Barbara Atchley (1961) Gene Cernan Separated 1980; Divorced 1981
Martha Horn (1957) Roger Chaffee Widowed 1967 (Apollo 1)
Patricia Finnegan (1957) Michael Collins Never divorced
Lo Ella Irby Walter Cunningham Divorced
Harriet Hamilton Donn Eisele Divorced 1968
Faith Clark Theodore Freeman Widowed 1964 (T-38 crash)
Barbara Field Dick Gordon Divorced
Clare Whitfield Rusty Schweickart Divorced
Ann Ott (1959) Dave Scott Divorced 2000?
Beth Lansche (1964) Clifton Williams Widowed 1967 (T-38 crash)


  1. ^ a b c Sambaluk, Nicholas Michael (2015). The Other Space Race. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press.
  2. ^ Hersch, Matthew H. (February 2011). "Return of the Lost Spaceman: America's Astronauts in Popular Culture, 1959–2006". Journal of Popular Culture. 44: 76–77. doi:10.1111/j.1540-5931.2010.00820.x.
  3. ^ a b c d e Andrea Morabito (2015-06-12). "These badass women inspired 'Astronaut Wives Club'". New York Post. Retrieved 2020-05-20.
  4. ^ a b c d e Koppel, Lily (2013). The Astronaut Wives Club. New York, NY: Grand Central Publishing.
  5. ^ a b Stanley, Alessandra (2015-06-16). "Review: 'The Astronaut Wives Club' Examines the Paper Dolls Behind the Men of Steel". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-05-20.
  6. ^ "Seven brave women behind the Astronauts: Spacemen's wives tell of their inner thoughts and worries". Life. 1959-09-21.
  7. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (2020-05-19). "Annie Glenn, Champion of Those With Speech Disorders, Dies at 100". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-05-22.
  8. ^ a b "'Astronaut Wives Club' Member Jo Schirra Dies at 91; Widow of Wally". Times of San Diego. 2015-05-04. Retrieved 2020-05-20.
  9. ^ a b c d Wainwright, Louden (1962-05-18). "From a Mountain Boyhood Full of Roaming and Recklessness Comes a Quiet Man to Ride Aurora 7". Life. p. 35.
  10. ^ a b c d e Kelly, John (11 July 2015). "Meet one of the real women from 'The Astronaut Wives Club'". The Washington Post. Retrieved 20 May 2020.
  11. ^ "As Scott Carpenter orbits, his wife lives through 'the time that grew too long'". Life. 1962-06-01. p. 26.
  12. ^ a b c Lathers, Marie (2010-11-04). Space Oddities: Women and Outer Space in Popular Film and Culture, 1960-2000. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. ISBN 978-1-4411-4820-9.
  13. ^ Cowles, Gregory (28 June 2013). "Inside the List". New York Times. Retrieved 4 July 2015.
This page was last edited on 18 May 2023, at 04:23
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