Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson

Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson

"Know how to learn. Then, want to learn." -Katherine Johnson

Illustrated by Susanne Lamb

Illustrated by Susanne Lamb


Dorothy Vaughan was born in 1910 in Kansas City, MO. She moved to West Virginia, received a full-tuition scholarship to Wilberforce University in Ohio. She graduated at the age of 19 with a B.A. in mathematics. Vaughan then began work as a teacher, got married and had four children. In 1943, Vaughan started work at Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory’s segregated West Area Computing section, in what she believed was a temporary war job. The West Area of NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) was very segregated from the white section, with separate bathrooms and dining halls. She was supervised by white women at first, but after four years of proving her abilities, was promoted to lead of the group, as NACA's first black supervisor.

Born in 1921 in Hampton, VA, Mary Jackson excelled in school. She graduated High School with the highest honors and graduated from Hampton Institute in 1942 with a dual degree in Math and Physical Sciences. She moved to Maryland where she taught math for a year, then moved back to Hampton where she worked as a receptionist, then a bookkeeper, gave birth to her first son, then worked as an Army secretary. In 1951, Jackson began work at Langley, supervised by Dorothy Vaughan.

Born in 1918, in West Virginia, Katherine Johnson loved math from a very young age and was beyond adept. Johnson sped through school at warp speed, and entered West Virginia State College at age 15. After graduating, she began teaching, married and started a family. When she heard about the opportunity to work for NACA she moved with her husband and three daughters to Newport News, and began work at Langley in 1954.

Dorothy Vaughan's role of supervisor allowed her to recommend women within her department to engineers and calculators for specific projects, She fought fiercely for the department, making sure they were able to advance in the program.  NACA became NASA in 1958 and segregated facilities were abolished. Dorothy and many of the women she oversaw, joined the new Analysis and Computation Division (ACD), making the transition to electric computers. Dorothy Vaughan became an expert FORTRAN programmer, and worked on the Scout Launch Vehicle Program.

Mary Jackson worked for two years as a computer, before she was chosen to work under engineer, Kazimierz Czarnecki, conducting experiments in a Supersonic Pressure Tunnel. Czarnecki was impressed by Jackson and suggested that she continue her education, and seek a promotion to engineer. However, the required math and science graduate night classes she would need to take were conducted at Hampton High School, which was segregated. Jackson gained special permission from the city to attend the classes and, in 1958 she became NASA's first black female engineer and coauthrored her first report, Effects of Nose Angle and Mach Number on Transition on Cones at Supersonic Speeds.

At work, Katherine Johnson was known to ask a lot of questions. She was also known to find a lot of answers, working as a computer. She asked if there was any rule that women couldn't attend briefings, and when she was told that technically there was not, she started attending. When the all-male flight mechanics branch needed help, Johnson was suggested for her knowledge of analytic geometry and worked there until she went on to work at the spacecraft control branch, which designed space missions and calculated trajectories.

In 1961 she worked on Freedom 7, a short simple mission to get Alan Shepard into space, then straight back down to earth. She was given a point that they wanted the craft to land, and Johnson calculated a parabolic route back from that. The 15 minute mission was a success, and Shepard was safe. The next mission, in 1962, was sending John Glenn into orbit and, though the team had made the transition to digital computers by that point, Glenn suggested that Johnson check the computer's math, which took her a day and a half. She confirmed the computer's findings and Glenn felt reassured. Glenn orbited earth three times, landing safely.

Katherine Johnson was on the team for Apollo 11 mission as well. It was a deceptively complicated calculation, with many factors to consider. In 1969, the United States successfully put a man on the moon, thanks in part to Johnson's calculations. At NASA, she received many prestigious awards, including the NASA Lunar Orbiter Award and three NASA Special Achievement Awards. Dorothy in 98 years old.


"Like most people that saw Hidden Figures, I loved the movie, and was so impressed by what these three real women were able to achieve, despite ridiculous obstacles like bathroom restrictions." -Susanne Lamb


Black Girls Code is working increase the number of women of color in the digital space by empowering girls of color ages 7 to 17 to become innovators in STEM fields, leaders in their communities, and builders of their own futures through exposure to computer science and technology. BGC providse African-American youth with the skills to occupy some of the 1.4 million computing job openings expected to be available in the U.S. by 2020, and to train 1 million girls by 2040.

Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth

James Baldwin

James Baldwin