In 1964 Soviet cosmonaut, Valentina Tereshkova, visited Shakespeare’s Birthplace as part of a world tour. A former textile worker and parachute enthusiast, Lieutenant Tereshkova became the first woman ever to be launched into space in 1963. The following year the Soviet authorities organised a world tour for her, including visits to India, Pakistan, USA, Poland, Mexico, UK and others; it was a brilliant publicity opportunity and they made the most of it.
This was the era of the ‘space race’ and rivalry between the USA and the Soviet Union was high. The Soviets launched Sputnik (the world’s first man made satellite) in the late 1950s; Valentina went into space in 1963 whilst the USA landed the first man on the moon in 1969. Valentina orbited the Earth 48 times, remaining up there for 2 days, 23 hours and 12 minutes – longer than all NASA’s Mercury 7 men up to that point had managed put together.
Though her visit to Stratford-upon-Avon was part of a publicity driven tour, Valentina may have been a Shakespeare fan; Shakespeare was popular in the Soviet Union, despite the perceived ‘Iron Curtain’ as it was called in the West, and they sent diplomatic representatives to Shakespeare’s 400th Birthday Celebrations in Stratford, April 1964. During the celebrations, the Soviet Union was placed between El Salvador and Ethiopia, close to Israel and the USA, in the Flag of Nations procession. A space themed Christmas card was sent to then Trust Director, Dr Levi Fox from the Soviet Union at the end of 1964, with all good wishes.
Valentina apparently enjoyed her visit to the Birthplace, which Levi Fox recalled “seemed to give her great pleasure”. They chatted through an interpreter and on leaving at the end of her day, she presented Levi with a pin badge.