The Success of the "Computer" Women - Essay Sample

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1501 Words
Date:  2022-04-14


In the United States, Black women have been known to be hardworking, entrepreneurs, avid political participators, yet they suffered compared to their White race when it comes to competition for jobs. They also suffer from illnesses at a higher rate compared to their White race due to overworking. The book "Hidden Figures" addresses a similar situation. Before the 1940s women "computers" were only a reserve for White women.

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Reading the book Hidden figures, I have noticed the dominance of the use of symbolism in this book. All through the chapters, the reader feels like recalling and reviewing events that happened in the past. Titles in the book including Manifest destiny, Mobilization, and "With All Deliberate Speed" attract the attention of historians and make them realized significant moments in the history of America. I have understood that the book's focus is mainly on African American female mathematicians namely: Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden, and Dorothy Vaughn (Shetterly, 18). I feel that the author was very considerate of women in writing a book that focuses mainly on them.

African American women "computers" were recruited for the first time by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in the 1940s. Currently, this organization is known as NASA. Before 1940, white women had the reservation in playing the role of human "computers." President Roosevelt had sent out an executive order in the year 1941 to bring an end to all forms of racial discrimination in government agencies after threats of protests from the Black community (Shetterly, 34). This is what led to the creation of a position of Black woman "computer" for the first time in the history of the United States. I understand that without these women coming out to protest for their rights the discrimination in such positions would have persisted for years. It is always important to fight for a course that we believe in.

The book covers the historical period between 1940 and 1960. The demonstrations against black segregation coincided with this period of Civil Rights movements. This was also the historical moment when white and black children were forced to attend different schools. In this period there was a separation of restaurants, public toilets, and theaters for black and white people. Despite the difficulties, there were spectacular cases when black schools performed better than white schools. I believe this was a difficult moment for the black race because they were denied access to the best facilities. This meant that they would not qualify to hold the best positions in organizations. I feel it is commendable that these women were able to make it into positions that were previously reserved for white women at a time when their race was being discriminated.

World War 2 forced many men among both races to head out to war paving way for more women to get positions that were previously held by the men. This was the period when black women were given positions as women "computers." Dorothy Vaughn was a teacher earning meager wages. She quit her job and joined the Langley's computing department alongside a number of black women mathematicians. She was promoted to the role of supervising the operations of the computing group, West Area Computers, after several years. I feel that the success she accomplished at the group was representative of the capabilities of black women at the time. It is difficult to imagine how she overcame all the negativity surrounding her race in a place where a huge majority of workers are of a different race. She was certainly a very strong woman.

The other woman in the group Mary Jackson was equally instrumental in the fight for the struggle to have black women "computers." She graduated from Hampton Institute with a master's degree in Mathematics and Physical Sciences in the year 1942. She had several job applications rejected before landing in Dorothy's group in the year 1950. This was a major platform for her to discover and showcase her talents. She could not progress further in the group because of the requirement to have a degree from the University of Virginia. Therefore, she took the initiative to pursue further studies in the university that was required. A few years after completing her studies at this university, she landed a job at Langley as a program manager. I believe her journey shows the determination that black women had to succeed. They needed to work harder than their counterparts because of inferiority complex. This was the only way they could be afforded the same opportunities to succeed in their careers.

The other woman in the group was Christine Darden. She was a mathematician who had acquired her degree in the early 1960s and proceeded to become part of the West Computers Group. Her specialist services in supersonic flight enabled her to become the first black woman get to a senior position in Langley's executive. Katherine Johnson was the most renowned among the four women. She worked in the Flight Research Division which was tasked with the computation of the path that would be used to transport John Glenn through the trajectory. Katherine played a major role in making mathematical computations; at a time when traveling through space was a new concept that had not been explored prior to that time. Initially, she was not allowed to get involved in boardroom meeting despite her mathematics being used to provide important input in the board meetings. Before Glenn embarked on his space tour, he believed the only person who could give him reassurance of safety of the computer programs was Katherine. In the end, his tour along the earth's orbit was successful, and this was when Katherine's reputation as one of the great "computer" women was cemented in history books. I understand that the contribution of these two women at Langley is glorious and they are still remembered for their historical contributions.

Beyond the year 1950, there was the introduction of electronic computers in the organization that was NACA. This prompted a reduction in the number of personnel in the West Computing Group and since they were permanent employees, the numbers were fired. Upon changing its name to NASA in the year 1958, The West Computing Group comprising of only 9 women remaining was dissolved and spaces were created in various divisions to accommodate them. Dorothy was moved to the Analysis and Computing Division due to her expertise in programming. I feel that these women strived to make, not just their futures but, the whole of Langley better by making ensuring that they are competitive in their respective fields. This is why they were able to adapt easily to changing dynamics in NASA during their time.

A very important glass ceiling was broken by these great Black women. The poem"The Peace of Wild Things" by Wendell Berry, relates to the situation that Black women faced in those days. Berry stated, "when despair for the world grows in me and I wake up in the night at the least sound, in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be," (Berry 16) alludes to the fact that the persona of the poem does not have a peaceful sleep when he thinks of what his children may go through in the future. He wakes up and goes to find a place where he can rest and be free. The theme of this poem is closely related to the situation at NASA before the 1940s. The Black women of the time were fighting for a right that would not only benefit them but their generations. It is clear that Black women had been undermined and denied an equal opportunity to become women "computers," which means they were not truly free in their own country.


Overall, prior to the 1940s, NASA did not consider Black women for the position of women "computers". Black women have advanced in seeking equal treatment in such agencies. The four women in "Hidden Figures" contributed massively in advocating for the rights of Black women. Therefore, I feel that more should be done to address the plight of Black women when it comes to seeking employment. We can still see the previous generation of women who did a similar job and get to know others who, in many respects, owe their chance to shine to a woman who worked in the field in the pats. The novel, beautifully written, engages the reader into these woman lives, describing them, their feelings and life challenges in an eloquent, evocative way. They may have felt helpless, but they did not let it guide their actions to success. With pure determination, their knowledge that they were no worse than anyone else in the area, their pursuit of excellence propelled them through life, giving American some of the best and brightest minds. Finally, the book changes our perspective on scientific research, showing that many women can take as much credit for it as men do.

Works Cited

Shetterly, Margot Lee. Hidden Figures. HarperCollins Nordic, 2017.

Berry, Wendell. The Peace of Wild Things. Black Oak Books, 1991.

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