Valentina’s Day, T-30, #GirlsWithToys

Mercury 13, NASA
Seven of the Mercury 13 on March 23, 2008. From left to right: Gene Nora Jessen, Wally Funk, Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Truhill, Sarah Rutley, Myrtle Cagle and Bernice Steadman. Image Courtesy of NASA

Yesterday you were invited to celebrate the First Annual Valentina’s Day to commemorate the accomplishments of #WomenInSpace. I shared the invitation on Twitter, and the Twitterverse exploded!

No, not because of Valentina’s Day, but because #GirlsWithToys was trending. This lively hashtag resulted from an interview by NPR with Shrinivas Kulkarni, a California Institute of Technology professor.

“‘Many scientists, I think, secretly are what I call ‘boys with toys,'” [Kulkarni] says. “I really like playing around with telescopes. It’s just not fashionable to admit it.'”

Apparently it is “fashionable to admit it” because women scientists from many disciplines posted plenty of pictures to prove it. After seeing them, I have great hope for the future of women in science. It’s just a shame though that it takes getting their lab coats in a twist to get the respect they earned.

As for The Mercury 13 from yesterday’s entry, they certainly didn’t get what they deserved, to fly to space. Let’s not forget who they are.

To commemorate them in this blog, here’s the list of these incredible women from Wikipedia.

  1. Myrtle Cagle
  2. Jerrie Cobb
  3. Janet Dietrich[1]
  4. Marion Dietrich[1]
  5. Wally Funk
  6. Sarah Gorelick (later Ratley)
  7. Janey Hart (née Briggs)
  8. Jean Hixson
  9. Rhea Hurrle (later Allison, then Woltman)
  10. Gene Nora Stumbough (later Jessen)
  11. Irene Leverton
  12. Jerri Sloan (née Hamilton, later Truhill)
  13. Bernice Steadman (née Trimble)

Notice anything? Only six have their own entry in Wikipedia. If you go to the pages that do have a link, there’s missing information. When I research women’s histories, sometimes it feels like I am watching their stories fade into the sunset. There is still so much work to be done.

And that’s why we need Valentina’s Day! Women in science do not get the recognition they deserve, nor do girls get the role models in science they need. Let’s change that!

P.S. – For your convenience, I googled the missing women. I’ve linked to sites I found interesting and hope you do too. Enjoy!

  1. Myrtle Cagle
  2. Sarah Gorelick (later Ratley)
  3. Jean Hixson
  4. Rhea Hurrle (later Allison, then Woltman)
  5. Gene Nora Stumbough (later Jessen)
  6. Irene Leverton
  7. Jerri Sloan (née Hamilton, later Truhill)

3 thoughts on “Valentina’s Day, T-30, #GirlsWithToys”

  1. WomanAstronomer:

    Someone sent me this link to your fascinating website. I was an amateur astronomer in my teenage an college years (I graduated from Univ. of MN – Duluth in 1959 in Physics & Math) and still maintain an arms-length interest in astronomical activities.

    Looking through your blog, I came to this sentence: “If you are a novice to observing, one of the must-have books is The Messier Album , written by John H. Mallas and Evered Kreimer.” Evered and I were friends, and members of the ’50s version of the Darling Astronomy Club. I have his book on my shelves. I have a feeling that you are a member of the Arrowhead Astronomical Society. If so, you are well aware of Darling’s 9″ refractor which sits in a display case outside the Alworth Planetarium.

    I am retired but my wife is a top-flight engineer who has been with her company for 34 years and now holds the title of Fellow in Engineering. While not an astronomer, she is the type of woman you describe in your blog.

    If you have an e-mail distribution list, would you please add me to it?

    Robert A DuFault 5764 Willow Lane Shoreview rdufault(at)

    1. Hi Robert,

      Thank you for your kind words. I’m glad you enjoyed the blog.

      I’m afraid I’ve never been to your state, so I’ve not seen Darling’s scope.

      Congratulations to your wife on her accomplishments. I’m guessing she has some interesting stories to tell about her career.

      You can be notified of new posts by signing up for an email subscription. I’m sorry, I’m not able to do that for you on this site. You’ll find the link at the bottom of the page.

      Again, thank you so much.

      Clear skies,

  2. Eric –

    I sent this message to you before, as well as to Dr. Siegar. We also touched on it last weekend when you and James were over to look at the telescope. So far, no one has picked up on it. I still think it would be a good topic for a permanent planetarium show, perhaps once a year. The geometry and concept is straightforward and, no, I am not volunteering to present it. I suspect that there is a source out there with some fancy slides, already to go. I’m thinking McDonald Observatory or, perhaps, someone at the Earth and Sky website.

    I’m borrowing your mailing list in case one of your members wants to pick this up.

    Here’s my original message.

    Dr. Seigar –

    I first sent out this message a few years ago. The question is still open as to whether it would make a good planetarium exhibit and whether the exhibition is available from elsewhere. Your opinion, as always, is valued.

    Note: the editorial inserts were provided by Eric Norland. I have not attempted to cover my embarrassment by deleting them.

    Robert DuFault

    As an amateur (and almost professional) astronomer, I am embarrassed to admit that I really didn’t understand the juxtapositions which, fortuitously for us, all occur at about the time of the equinox (ed: solstice) . For example, even if you are on the precise longitude of a given time zone, why aren’t the days and nights symmetric going backward or forward from the equinox (ed: solstice) ? I thought I understood the Equation of Time, but then it finally dawned on me that the same precession of the earth’s axis which causes the rotation in the sky every 26,000 years or so also causes the approximate alignment of the earth’s axis with the semi-major axis of the earth’s elliptical orbit, at least in our epoch.

    Do you have, or can you obtain, a series of graphics, or a video suitable for projection in the planetarium, which explains this strange coincidence and shows how this will change over the centuries as the earth’s axis migrates? I started to have a discussion at the planetarium one evening with an elderly gentleman who, I believe, totally misunderstood my remarks and questions and began to pontificate in a manner which suggested that he had spent considerable time behind a lectern and, perhaps, thought he still was. It proved to be a rather dissatisfying experience for both of us.

    However, the question remains. I think that many might benefit from a suitable graphic, or at least a lecture which doesn’t handwave away the whole event by reference only to the tilt of the earth’ axis.

    I googled the phrase [ winter solstice earth axial tilt ] and came up with quite a few interesting links. You can google this string yourself. The 3rd and 4th entries (News and Images) each expand into lists of other interesting websites. I’m sure that you have thought this issue through eons ago and have more, and better, references than these. I think my most recent Astronomy text is from the 1960s (disconcerting to have to type out the full date rather than just typing ’60s – another penalty of old age).


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