Computers in Skirts

Computers in Skirts

Laura's picture

The Oscar-nominated movie “Hidden Figures” dramatizes the contributions of a corps of African-American women who did mathematical calculations for the NASA space program in the early 1960s, before computers, as we know them, were in use. Because the women did the computational work, they were called “computers”. Color photo of Katherine Johnson receiving the medal of honor

The movie is based on true events described in the book “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly. Specifically, it focuses on the experiences of three black women with extraordinary skills and incredible minds. They were Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. The women were instrumental in the success of the Friendship 7 mission in which John Glenn orbited the earth. According to the NASA history website, “this Mercury-Atlas (MA) 6 mission also reestablished NASA and the U.S. as a strong contender in the space race with the Soviet Union…and set the stage for Projects Gemini and Apollo during the 1960s and all later U.S. human spaceflight activities.” 

They accomplished all this while remaining composed in the face of racial prejudice and gender discrimination. Therefore, it is fitting that we credit the contributions of these unsung heroes during Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March).

If you want to read more, including an interview with Katherine Goble Johnson, you may consult the following databases provided by the Upper Arlington Public Library.

Logo for the Gale Biography in Context database; blue rectangle with light blue background, blue and black lettering and a picture of former President Barack Obama's face and shouldersLogo for the Gale Science in Context database; light green rectangle with green and black lettering and an artist's rendition of an atomLogo for Science Reference Center database; yellow green rectangle with black lettering and figuresLogo for the Facts on File Science Online database; turquoise rectangle with white lettering and black and white photograph of stars and planets