Monday, January 9, 2017

#MondayMotivation: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson

In 1935 NASA began hiring white women to serve as human 'computers', charged with checking the math of their male counterparts for a fraction of the pay and title. In 1941 President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, which banned discrimination in the employment of women in defense industries or government sector because of race, creed, color or national origin, leading to a recruitment of degree holding African American women as computers. 

Although the African American women held the same, or greater, credentials as their white counterparts, they were subjected to separate dining facilities, separate bathroom facilities and were not eligible for promotions within NASA. That is until Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson came along. 

Here's a sampling of what these women accomplished: 

Katherine Johnson was something of a math prodigy and became the first black woman to attend West Virginia's state college in 1938 for her graduate degree.  Katherine would provide some of the key mathematics allowing John Glenn to orbit the earth and for Apollo to land on the moon, earning her both the respect of her predominately white, male colleagues and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2015). 

Dorothy Vaughan became the first black supervisor at NASA and one of the leading experts in FORTRAN programming. She also trained her 'staff' of African American computers in early computer programming, allowing many of them to retain their jobs at NASA as technology became more readily available. 

Mary Jackson sued the City of Hampton in order to take classes at the segregated Hampton High School, allowing her to become the first black female engineer at NASA. Over her career Jackson made it her mission to help other women and minorities advance their careers, later serving as the Federal Women's Program Manager in the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs and as the Affirmative Action Program Manager. 

I find each of their journeys individually inspiring, but what struck me most about them was their common mission to help lift up other women and minorities in NASA. What a beautiful lesson to have!

Their story of friendship, hard work and perseverance is told in the book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and was given the Hollywood treatment in the recently released blockbuster titled Hidden Figures. Click on either link to learn more. 

- DBC 


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