First female ‘Cosmo the Cougar’ reflects on time as BYU’s mascot

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Peggy Herron Mortensen and Ray Pope are revealed as the Cosmos in 1956. Mortensen was the first female student to portray Cosmo the Cougar. (Photo courtesy of Peggy Herron Mortensen)

In 1956, female student Peggy Herron Mortensen was given the chance to play BYU mascot Cosmo the Cougar. Now, almost 70 years later, Cosmo is a staple in BYU athletic events. However, the role of Cosmo has only been played by a few confirmed female students, with Mortensen being the first.

The First Female Cosmo

As a young girl, Mortensen loved doing new things. One of her biggest adventures was becoming the first — and one of the only — female students to portray the role of Cosmo the Cougar.

Danny Gallego, a friend of Mortensen’s and the first BYU student to play Cosmo, encouraged Mortensen to try out for the role of Cosmo the Cougar in 1955 at the age of 20.

Peggy Herron Mortensen sports the Cosmo suit. She was the first female student to portray Cosmo the Cougar. (Photo courtesy of Peggy Herron Mortensen)

Mortensen recalls that she was the only female trying out at the time. She said that while she enjoyed being the first female Cosmo, she auditioned more “for the adventure.”

Once chosen to play Cosmo, Mortensen said Gallego would take her to the gym and practice walking and looking “like a guy.” She said that because the Cosmo suit was too large for her, she had to wear her own shoes and “lots of padding” inside the costume.

Playing The Role

Mortensen’s first appearance as Cosmo the Cougar was at a football game during the 1955-56 season. She said that she was flown into the football stadium in a helicopter and “bounced across the field on a pogo stick.”

Peggy Herron Mortensen, dressed as Cosmo, arrives by helicopter. Mortensen was the first female student to portray Cosmo the Cougar. (Photo courtesy of Peggy Herron Mortensen)

Before playing Cosmo, Mortensen was a member of the Cougarettes. During the 1955-56 season, she was the commandant of the Cougarettes as well as Cosmo and designed the Cougarette uniform the same year.

Mortensen said her favorite part of being Cosmo was the “mystery and experiences” that it brought. She describes a particularly memorable experience as Cosmo: “I was chased by University of Utah students leaving the U of U stadium parking lot,” Mortensen said. “We lost them on the back roads of Salt Lake City.”

The Secret Identity

During her time as Cosmo, very few knew she wore the suit. Gallego knew, because he was Cosmo’s handler at the time. The others included one of Mortensen’s roommates, the pep committee chairman, and one of the student vice presidents.

“It was hard keeping the secret, especially from the other roommates and Cougarettes,” Mortensen said.

Peggy Herron Mortensen, dressed as Cosmo, dances with the Cougarettes. Mortensen was the first female student to portray Cosmo the Cougar. (Photo courtesy of Peggy Herron Mortensen)

Mortensen recalls that another fun experience was performing with the Cougarettes during a basketball game. Dressed as Cosmo, she slid down a rope in the Smith Fieldhouse into the middle of the Cougarettes and performed with the girls.

Mortensen said that a much more interesting experience was going on a date dressed as Cosmo to help “promote school spirit.” Because no one knew the identity of Cosmo, they assumed it was a male student inside the costume. She dressed as Cosmo and took student leader Diane Hatch to the opera, “Rigoletto.” Mortensen explained that it was “an odd experience trying to be a ‘guy’ on a date.”

The identity of Cosmo was revealed at the end of each season. In 1956, for the first time, Cosmo was played by two individuals, Mortensen and fellow student Ray Pope.

Peggy Herron Mortensen and Ray Pope are revealed as the Cosmos in 1956. Mortensen was the first female student to portray Cosmo the Cougar. (Photo courtesy of Peggy Herron Mortensen)

Life after Cosmo

After her time as Cosmo, Mortensen worked for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. She also worked for BYU’s data processing department from 1956 to 1959.

Mortensen met her husband, W. Fred Mortensen, while at BYU. They were married in the Salt Lake Temple in 1959, shortly after he returned from his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Peggy and Fred Mortensen sit in front of their Christmas tree on Christmas Day 2005. Mrs. Mortensen was the first female student to portray Cosmo the Cougar. (Photo courtesy of Peggy Herron Mortensen)

While her husband finished school at BYU from 1960 to 1963, Mortensen raised her three sons. Mr. Mortensen received his master’s degree at the University of Southern California in public administration in 1964, and they have lived in California ever since.

Peggy Herron Mortensen stands with her sons, Darren, Damon, and Dane, in 2012. Mortensen was the first female student to portray Cosmo the Cougar. (Photo courtesy of Peggy Herron Mortensen)

In the years since, Mortensen has served in all Church auxiliaries in many different positions. She also has a passion for family history. In the ’90s, Peggy was a staff member and supervisor at the San Jose Family History Center.

“The family history ‘bug’ bit me and I have been active in family history ever since,” Mortensen said.

Fred and Peggy Mortensen, along with Peggy’s sister, Nyla, and her husband Derold Bates, win 1st place in the Chinese songs contest in 1999. Peggy Herron Mortensen was the first female student to portray Cosmo the Cougar. (Photo courtesy of Peggy Herron Mortensen)

After Fred retired in 1996, the Mortensens taught English in China through the BYU Kennedy Center. They also participated in the two-month “Sea Trek 2001,” the ceremonial sailing of eight ships that commemorated the 19th-century gathering of “European converts to Zion, [which] departed from Esbjerg, Denmark, on the first leg of its 59-day journey, which concluded Oct. 4 in New York City,” according to the Church News website.

This voyage went from Denmark to other European countries, such as Norway, Sweden, England, Germany and the Canary Islands. The sea trek ended in New York about a month after 9/11.

“We were in the middle of the Atlantic when we got word about the bombing of the twin towers, and we were the first ships to be allowed to enter the docks of New York,” Mortensen said.

Fred and Peggy Mortensen participated in “Sea Trek 2001”, wearing costumes made to represent their ancestors who came from Denmark and Switzerland. Mrs. Mortensen was the first female student to portray Cosmo the Cougar. (Photo courtesy of Peggy Herron Mortensen)

They were called as country directors for the Church’s Welfare & Humanitarian Services in Indonesia from 2002 to 2004. They also served as temple ordinance workers in the Copenhagen Denmark Temple from 2012 to 2013 and the Oakland California Temple from 2013 to 2017.

Mortensen enjoys playing the Hawaiian steel guitar. She has performed at church, competitions, and her grandfather’s funeral. She also enjoys crafts and sewing.

At one point, Mortensen and her sister, Tonnie, began a business called “Crafty Herron,” in which they would craft items and sell them at holiday boutiques. Peggy also managed two “Troll Doll” stores with her husband. Both businesses did relatively well. Mortensen also sewed her family’s clothes for many years and enjoys gardening.

“Gardening is one of my happy places,” Mortensen said.

Peggy Herron Mortensen picks radishes in her garden in 2010. Mortensen was the first female student to portray Cosmo the Cougar. (Photo courtesy of Peggy Herron Mortensen)

The Mortensens have traveled the world, from Church history sites like Kirkland, Ohio and Nauvoo, Illinois to international destinations like Tibet, Norway and Iceland. They once sailed the entire length of the Erie Canal in a boat “with the mast tied down,” Mortensen said.

The Mortensens are avid BYU fans. Each morning, they listen to BYU Sports Nation and watch all the BYU football and basketball games, both men’s and women’s teams. “Our kids and grandkids think it’s ‘cool’ that mom/grandma was Cosmo,” Mortensen said.

Peggy Herron Mortensen celebrates her 75th birthday surrounded by family. Mortensen was the first female student to portray Cosmo the Cougar. Mortensen (Photo courtesy of Peggy Herron Mortensen)

The other female Cosmos


Not only was Mortensen the first female Cosmo, but she is the oldest living Cosmo and one of only a handful of women who have played the mascot.

Mike Walker, Y Magazine associate editor said only two other female students had the role of the mascot in the 1950s: Betty Mathie during the 1957-58 season and Tamie Kirk Mahnken in the 1958-59 season.

Duff Tittle, BYU Athletic Communications Senior Director, said he recalled there being “a handful of female Cosmos” from 1999 to 2004, however, there is no documented record of these women.

Cosmo the Cougar – A Male-Only Role?

When Eugene L. Roberts suggested the cougar as BYU’s mascot in 1923, he believed that it was the best fit, as BYU athletes should exemplify specific traits such as “strength, agility, grace, quickness and beauty,” according to the Cosmo Cougar Website.

The fact that no women have played Cosmo in the recent past is “not for lack of trying,” said Jefferson Oldroyd, the spokesperson for Cosmo’s Crew, Cosmo, and the BYU Dunk Team.

Over the last few years, women have auditioned to be Cosmo, they were not chosen for one reason or another. However, some of these women have made the BYU Dunk team, including Alexa Frost.

Alexa Frost practices a routine in the Smith Fieldhouse. (Shyler Johnson)

Frost made the Dunk team in the Fall of 2021 and said the role of Cosmo is often seen as a job for male students.

“I think the role of Cosmo is definitely seen as a male role, so I think a female stepping up and doing the job is super inspiring,” Frost said.

While female students are always welcome to audition for the role of Cosmo the Cougar, there have been conversations about another way to involve female students. While still in the beginning stages, there has been discussion about creating a female counterpart or a “sister to Cosmo,” BYU Dunk team’s coach David Eberhard said.

Information about Cosmo auditions can be found on the Cosmo the Cougar website or by emailing .

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