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Honoring the Annie Glenn who stepped outside her famous husband’s shadow

If all you know about Annie Glenn is what you saw in the movie “The Right Stuff,” she was a traditional housewife who stood behind her man, astronaut John Glenn. In real life, she was much more than that.

John and Annie Glenn outside their Arlington, Virginia home, in 1962.
John and Annie Glenn outside their Arlington, Virginia home, in 1962.
Bob Schutz/AP

If all you know about Annie Glenn is what you saw in the movie “The Right Stuff,” she was a traditional housewife of the 1960s who stood behind her man, astronaut John Glenn.

There’s a lot of truth and much to respect in that. Annie Glenn was primarily a housewife for many years, making a home for her husband and their two children, and she was good at it.

But there was much more to Mrs. Glenn, who died Tuesday at the age of 100 from complications related to COVID-19. She became an important public figure in her own right, stepping out of the shadow of her famous husband to advocate for people with severe speech impediments.

That took real courage because Mrs. Glenn suffered from a stuttering problem so severe that she struggled to speak full sentences until she was in her 50s. Perhaps it took as much courage as it would to orbit the earth.

Mrs. Glenn spoke on the issue of speech impediments across the country. She led multiple organizations devoted to helping children with speech and hearing disorders. She became an adjunct professor of speech pathology at Ohio State University. She received, in 1983, the first national award of the American Speech and Hearing Association.

In one of the most memorable scenes in “The Right Stuff,” Vice President Lyndon Johnson insists on meeting with Mrs. Glenn in her home, with the TV cameras rolling, to congratulate her on her husband’s service. Because of her stutter, she is terrified at the very thought.

She manages to call to her husband at a NASA hangar, where he is still in his space suit from a scratched mission. He listens hard and says, “Annie, if you don’t want the vice president or the networks or anybody else to come into the house, then that’s it as far as I’m concerned. They’re not coming in and I will back you up all the way and you tell them that!”

That’s a pretty terrific — and accurate — scene. But it also portrays Annie strictly as a woman in need of saving by a man.

Annie Glenn, like all the stereotyped women of her times, was so much more than that.

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