Monday, February 27, 2017

Black History Month: No Longer Hidden

Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson

Left to right: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson at a NASA award ceremony
The real-life women portrayed in the movie Hidden Figures were instrumental in the success of the United States space program.

Mary Jackson worked for NASA from 1951 until 1985. She did important scientific and mathematical work, like Katherine Johnson, yet she also made her mark as a human resources manager tasked with EEOC responsibilities (Shetterly, 257-260). This is a quote from Mary’s obituary, written by Mary’s protégé and successor, Gloria Champine, “She was a role model of the highest character, and through her quiet, behind-the-scenes efforts managed to help many minorities and women reach their highest potential through promotions and movement into supervisory positions.” (Shetterly, 260).

Educated in mathematics, Katherine Johnson was responsible for calculations related to Mercury missions and the Apollo 11 and 13 missions. Ms. Johnson worked at NASA from 1953 until 1986, and she is still living today (Boyd, 2016). She received the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Obama, in 2015.

Dorothy Vaughan, a math whiz, and the third woman portrayed in the Hidden Figures movie, worked as a research mathematician and the section head of the group of women computers known as West Computing. Per a quote from the book Hidden Figures, “History would prove them all right: there was no one better qualified for the job [Head of the West Area Computers unit] than Dorothy Vaughan.” (Shetterly, p.92)

Additional links of interest for Hidden Figures women/women at NASA:
Women at Jet Propulsion Lab link:
Women at NASA link:
Link to the movie production company’s website:
Boyd, H. (2016, September 15-21). ‘Hidden Figures’ No More—Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson of NASA. New York Amsterdam News. 107:38. pp. 28-31.

Shetterly, M. L. (2016). Hidden Figures. New York: William Morrow.

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