Sharing my learnings from the book, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
HIDDEN FIGURES: THE AMERICAN DREAM AND THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE BLACK WOMEN MATHEMATICIANS WHO HELPED WIN THE SPACE RACE recovers the history of these pioneering women and situates it in the intersection of the defining movements of the American century: the Cold War, the Space Race, the Civil Rights movement and the quest for gender equality
- This is the story of the black women who played an integral part in the development of World War II machines and the space race.
- NACA, founded in 1917, was originally a place where warplanes and other kinds of machines for flight were developed. This all changed during the Cold War with the Soviet Union when NACA turned into NASA and devoted itself to winning the space race.
- In the 1940s, Langley hired its first black employees as “computers,” since they would be performing mathematical computations.
- Some of these women have been duly recognized, such as Katherine Johnson, who was given the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2015. Yet the majority of the world is still unaware that there was a team of all-black, all-female math whizzes helping the United States explore space.
- But it wasn’t easy for these women. In 1940, only 2 percent of black women had a university degree, and, of those who did, a majority wound up teaching in their hometown. But to work at NACA, they had to move to a new city, give up those teaching jobs and leave their families behind.
- It’s hard to imagine what a black woman went through in order to work at a prestigious, yet predominantly white, research institution over 50 years ago. Despite these degrading circumstances, the West Computers were determined to set a positive example with grace and strength.
- For a black woman, the highest managerial position to aim for was the supervisor of the West Computers. This is the position that Dorothy Vaughan reached in 1951, becoming Langley’s first black manager. In this role, Dorothy was integral to helping other women, both black and white, secure promotions.
- despite these unfavorable circumstances, the women provided vital contributions that made airplanes faster, safer and more aerodynamic
- Their important work culminated in the space race, where Katherine Johnson was heavily involved in calculating the trajectories of the NASA flight that sent the first US astronaut into space in 1962. Later, she also provided crucial work for the Apollo moon landing. Both times, Katherine Johnson’s numbers were solid.
- Women are barely represented in most of our popular depictions of historical events, especially those involving science, engineering and math. But the truth of the matter is that black women were integral to many landmark achievements in the twentieth century, including the Apollo mission that sent Neil Armstrong to the moon.