The New-York Historical Society is temporarily closed through the end of March to help support efforts to contain COVID-19, and all programs are canceled or postponed through the end of April. But we’re still celebrating Women’s History Month online—and helping out with reading recs during this unique time. On March 29 from 2-3 pm, we’ll be hosting a virtual Reading Into History Family Book Club to talk about Almost Astronauts, the thrilling true story of the 13 women who challenged the U.S. government in the 1960s and pushed to become astronauts in the early days of the space race. Author Tanya Lee Stone will be logging in remotely to tell us about trailblazers like Jerrie Cobb, the renowned aviator and test pilot who was one of the first women to undergo NASA’s physical and psychological tests. Bookmark this page for any updates. The details on our Zoom meetup are below:
*If you need more information on joining Zoom go here.
In the meantime, get ready for March 29 with these supplemental materials that both entertaining and informative. And then continue on below for our interview with Stone, who talks about what inspired her and what we can look forward to on March 29.
Movies to watch: Stream Mercury 13 on Netflix, the 2018 documentary about the women described in Almost Astronauts. Then, rent Hidden Figures, the hit movie about the brilliant, unsung women who made the space race possible.
Stories to listen to: Story time from space! Astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor reads the children’s book Ada Twist, Scientist while floating aboard the International Space Station.
Crafts to make: Build your own satellite with objects from home. NASA has online directions here.
More to read: Check out New-York Historical’s Women & the American Story, our online curriculum about women’s history, for a letter from the legendary Amelia Earhart about opportunities for women in aviation.
Interview with Almost Astronauts author Tanya Lee Stone:
What was your inspiration for writing Almost Astronauts and where did you first go looking for sources that told this history?
I heard a passing mention of them in a research article I was reading for another book, and I thought, “What? How have I never heard of Jerrie Cobb?!” So I started digging!
How did personal relationships, like the one you developed with Cobb, affect the way you told this story?
The time I spent with these women–through email correspondence, phone calls, and finally a whole weekend where I was lucky enough to be with NINE of them, including Jerrie Cobb–was absolutely priceless. It changed me and the manuscript in immeasurable ways. I suppose the most book-altering and jaw-dropping example is the anecdote I tell in the book about Jerrie Cobb telling me what really happened in President Lyndon B. Johnson’s office. [Ed. Note: Read the book to find out more!]
You write in the afterword: “Telling this story changed my own writing.” Would you mind elaborating on how this book influenced your trajectory as a children’s nonfiction writer?
Telling this story required me going deeper as a journalist than I ever had before. It reminded me that authors write the books they write for reasons that are not only important to the story, but important to them as writers, and that should be embraced, not shied away from. It taught me to follow every trail of evidence, no matter how small I thought it might be, because you never know what you are going to find.
Why did you find it significant to write this story for young audiences?
Every woman working in the air and space field knows who these women are–that they stand on their shoulders. I think it’s crucial for us to know these kinds of stories that shape our world; and the younger we start to be aware of the multitude of people who contribute to our histories, the better!
By Ava Prince