Women and Gender Seminar: Roshanna P. Sylvester, DePaul University

Women and Gender Seminar
Friday, February 4, 2011

3:00 pm to 5:00 pm

“Dreams in Orbit: Girls, Science, and Space in Cold War America and the Soviet Union”
Roshanna P. Sylvester, DePaul University

During the Cold War, the US and the USSR differed sharply on issues of ideology and social structure while nonetheless sharing similar aspirations to excellence and global leadership in science and technology. Historians investigating efforts on both sides to create societies filled with tech-savvy citizens have examined various aspects of Cold War science and culture. Largely absent in those discussions, however, are historical studies that focus on children, specifically girls in middle childhood. This paper compares archival letters from Soviet schoolgirls to the first male and female cosmonauts – Yuri Gagarin (1961) and Valentina Tereshkova (1963) – with those penned by their American counterparts to John Glenn, the first American to achieve earth orbit (1962). Letters suggest that while children in both contexts were swept up in the “space craze,” Tereshkova’s voyage had special resonance for girls in both the Soviet Union and America. That said, Soviet girls revealed a sense of empowerment and entitlement in the realms of science and technology that girls in the US simply did not have.

Commentator: Joe Austin, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Kate Baldwin, Northwestern University