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A Trip Through Space for Boys and Girls (1954)

While flipping through the 1954 book A Trip Through Space I was struck by one aspect of the interstellar story that I've never noticed in a pre-Apollo book... a girl in space!

Here at Paleofuture we've looked at quite a few books that told children of the 1950s and 60s about the wondrous world of space travel in store for them. But I can honestly say that I've never noticed one that included girls in this fantastic, space-faring future.

Exploring Space, First Men to the MoonBoytopia, The Complete Book of Space Travel; none of these depictions of future astronauts bothered to include women. A Trip Through Space was written by Catharine E. Barry, an associate curator at the Hayden Planetarium, but there isn't much information about her online. Any biographical information about Ms. Barry from readers is greatly appreciated.

Now, I know that pointing out gender inequalities of the 1950s isn't a particularly novel observation and I only own about half a dozen children's books from the 1950s and 60s that envision future space travel. So it's difficult for me to definitively say how common depictions of female astronauts were during this period without more extensive research. With that said, I suspect that the girl in A Trip Through Space is a rare depiction indeed. 

I'm fascinated by what kind of stories we tell our children and how that shapes our society. The stories we hear as kids no doubt greatly influence our perspective on what's possible for the future, both globally and personally. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space* in 1983 -- the year I was born, in fact. What stories did Sally Ride hear growing up that set her on a path pursuing science? Growing up, how did she see herself fitting into the space program? As a 27 year old man who didn't grow up during the Space Age it's sometimes hard for me to gain personal perspective on things like this. 

I emailed Virginia Postrel, author of The Future and Its Enemies, columnist at Bloomberg and editor of the website Deep Glamour so that I might better understand the gender politics of the time. When I moved to Los Angeles I had dinner with Virginia, her husband and Paul Boutin at Cafe 50s, where a copy of the 1959 kid's book You Will Go to the Moon hangs on the wall. Over dinner Virginia talked about how much she loved that book when she was a little girl. Virginia's email to me appears below. 

When I was in kindergarten (roughly 1965), we had a time every day where we could look at books. My favorite books were You Will Go to the Moon (1959) and a book on the planets. I did read You Will Go to the Moon nearly every day, and I never noticed that the character in the book is a boy or that the text says, "You will be a space man." I only noticed that decades later when the book turned up on the wall of Cafe 50s and I later acquired a used copy. As a child I never explicitly aspired to be an astronaut. It was more that I assumed that in the future people would go into space, perhaps on business trips or as tourists. I never got to the details. I don't know that more women being represented would have had much effect on me, because I've never had much of a problem identifying with male role models, but it might have made a difference for other girls. Later, in the early 1970s, when I was 12 or 13 I watched Star Trek, which, of course, had plenty of female characters. The recurring ones were a switchboard operator, a nurse, and a secretary, but there were nonrecurring scientists, diplomats, historians, etc.


And it goes without saying that your comments about this time period -- educated or otherwise -- are more than welcome.

*The first woman in space was Russian Valentina Tereshkova in 1963.

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Reader Comments (7)

Unfortunately--being born only three years before your good self--the only thing I can offer is something my mum said once. We were watching TNG and Picard was doing the famous 'where no one has' bit. Apropos of nothing, my mum just said, "I don't know why they've changed it from 'where no MAN has gone before'... The old introduction never made me feel disempowered". Very interesting to hear Virginia saying the same thing.

June 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDylan Fox

Rodenberry even wanted to make the first officer female, but the suits wouldn't have it. You can see his original vision in "The Cage".

June 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterNemo

There was a song by Polish girlsband -as we would call them now - dedicated to Valentina Tereshkova - "Wala Twist". Wala is a short for Valentina (spelled through W, pronounced with english V).

June 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJames

@Dylan Fox: TOS wording of "No man" is not only misogynistic in character, but also species specific. The rewriting of it as "No one" isn't just inclusive of women; it would include all species in the universe, regardless of their origin, creed, color, religion, etc - which is likely what the writers were trying to convey. Its a pity that humanity struggles to make this simple leap in consciousness right here on our own planet...

June 12, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercr0sh

@cr0sh I expect you're right, but at the risk of being a pedant... you can't go where no ONE has gone before AND discover new life and new civilisations. I mean, if no one's ever gone there before all you're going to find is a whole bunch of nothing apart from some rocks and gases.

June 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDylan Fox

There's a copy of the children's magazine Jack and Jill from 1957 that features several girls in space, although a boy is still the central figure:

I work for the company that licenses the J&J archive so I've seen most of their covers, which date back to the early 40's. I know this isn't the only space-themed piece, but there's no archive online. I'll have to see if I can track down any other images, but just offhand I think the magazine did do a pretty good job of including both boys and girls in the cover art regardless of theme, since the magazine was aimed at both.

June 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJabberwocky

@Jabberwocky That's awesome! Thanks!

June 26, 2011 | Registered CommenterMatt Novak

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