Katherine Goble. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson are some of the many forgotten women, especially black women, who achieved amazing things in spite of the prejudice and road blocks thrown at them. All extremely brilliant women, they were the brains behind the launch of John Glenn into space in the 1960’s space race. Their work helped our country to put a man on the moon.
The movie is great and I hope you will see it. It does a pretty good job of telling what the women went through – early childhood and education, what they suffered in order to be accepted in society, and obstacles they encountered at work. The extras in the special Blu-Ray edition relate more of the many achievements of these incredible women. Here are a few highlights (some of the information obtained through my further research):
Katherine Goble Johnson
Katherine was a math prodigy who graduated from West Virginia State College summa cum laude at only age 18. She married and had three children. Sadly, Mr. Goble died of a brain tumor. Later she remarried.
Katherine was an aerospace technologist. She verified the computer’s numbers for John Glenn’s orbit around the earth in 1962, calculated the historic Apollo 11 trip to the moon, and worked on the calculations that helped bring Apollo 13 safely back to earth after it malfunctioned in 1970.
Dorothy Johnson Vaughan
Dorothy received her training at Wilberforce University in Ohio in 1929. She married Howard Vaughan and they had six children. In 1943, Dorothy went to work at Langley as one of the African-American women who were hired due to President Roosevelt’s executive order forbidding racial, ethnic, or religious discrimination in the defense industry as he sought to fill the jobs needed for the war effort. Dorothy was one of the countless female human “computers” who did the math for the space industry.
Later when IBM introduced digital computers to replace the human computers, Dorothy was smart enough to figure a way to keep her job and the jobs of all of the other women. She taught herself and them the Fortran programming Language for the IBM 704 mainframe computers that NASA was installing. (Just look at that room full of machines in the movie and realize that your cell phone has more computing power than all of that!!)
Mary graduated from Hampton Institute with bachelor’s degrees in Mathematics and physical science. Frustrated and unhappy about the discrimination against her in the work place, Mary almost resigned. However, her supervisor, Kazimierz Czarnecki encouraged her to train as an engineer. Mary had to fight racial prejudice but she successfully finished the course and was promoted to aerospace engineer in 1958 at the age of 37. She wrote many papers and studied data that helped to improve US planes. Mary achieved the most senior rank in the engineering department, but took a demotion to become a human resources administrator until her retirement in 1985. She spent her time helping other women and minorities to advance their careers.
One of the things that is downplayed a bit in the movies is the tremendous religious faith of these three wonderful women. They all just wanted to succeed and were willing to put up with the prejudice against them. In that era, blacks were often just happy to have a job. Their gratitude for what they had should put those of us who have never encountered their obstacles to shame. They are an inspiration!
It is finally time after 55 years that Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary are recognized for their achievements. Though things have changed a lot since the 1940’s and 50’s, there is still a struggle for full racial and gender equality. The stories of these women will go a long way to erase the idea that women, especially black women are inferior.
Here is a trailer to the movie: