Enlightening and Inspiring Generations with Generations of Ideas

Hidden Figures: When Computers Wore Skirts Display

Before a computer became an inanimate object and before Sputnik changed the course of history, before the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education established that separate was in fact not equal, and before the poetry of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech rang out over the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, a group of black women working at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia were helping America dominate aeronautics, space research, and computer technology, carving out a place for themselves as female mathematicians who were also black, black mathematicians who were also female....

Hidden Figures: When Computers Wore Skirts is an interactive display that highlights the achievements of Katherine Johnson, a physicist and mathematician whose work successfully guided astronauts throughout the historic early era of manned space flight including the missions of John Glenn and Alan Shepard, the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon, through the Space Shuttle program and even early plans for the Mission to Mars, Mary Jackson, a mathematician and aerospace engineer at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Dorothy Vaughan, a mathematician who worked at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the predecessor agency to NASA, becoming in 1949, the first African American woman to be promoted as a head of personnel at NACA. 

Viewers can explore "Hidden Figures: When Computers Wore Skirts" in the foyer of the main entrance of the Library (Route 6/3rd Street).  Interspersed among books that are available for checkout are photographs depicting the era and NASA related items like pins, decals and thermal insulation.  While exploring the case, viewers can watch a eight minute slide presentation that showcases Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race and the actresses that portray the three women in the new movie, Hidden Figures.  At the end of the presentation, a remembrance to John Glenn is shown. 

Viewers can also enjoy a interactive map that was part of a student/faculty collabortative project at Macalester College in Minnesota, that documents stories of individuals who worked in the segregated "West Area" of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia. 

A internet resource page is available, to take or as a PDF (below), that has links and QR codes for further interest.  We love to hear comments and feedback from our displays! Please contact Rachael Blomquist (rblomquist@lasalle.lib.il.us) if you wish to comment or have feedback. 
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Hidden Figures: When Computers Wore Skirts Resources259.24 KB