Here's What You Need to Know About the Real Women Behind the 'Hidden Figures' Movie

Here's What You Need to Know About the Real Women Behind the 'Hidden Figures' Movie


Aug 16, 2016

Inspired by a true story, "Hidden Figures" reveals the history of three of the African-American women who calculated the "important mathematical data needed to launch [NASA]'s first successful space missions."

These women, including MAKER Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson — played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe, respectively — tell the story of the important role females held in science, especially for that time.

"Most Americans have no idea that from the 1940s through the 1960s, a cadre of African-American women formed part of the country's space work force," Margot Lee Shetterly writes, adding that it's often unknown that this same group "helped provide NASA with the raw computing power it needed to dominate the heavens."

But, while the film will feature three prominent African-American women from this organization, there are a few things you may want to know beforehand.

Get to know the real people, or "Human Computers," behind the movie characters below:

Katherine Johnson
Who: Johnson, born in White Sulfur Springs, W.V., began high school when she was just 10 years old, graduating at 14 and going on to finish her B.S. in mathematics and French by the time she was 18 from West Virginia State University.
When: She began working for the then National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) — now NASA — in 1953, well before the modern computer existed. Johnson and the other women hired to measure and calculate wind tunnel test results "had the job title of 'computer' [and] during World War II, the NACA expanded this effort to include African-American women." Eventually, she actually made it possible for Alan Shepard and John Glenn to go to space.

Dorothy Vaughan
Who: Born in 1910 in Kansas City, Missouri, Vaughan graduated at 19-years-old from Wilberforce University — a college founded in 1865 as "one of the destination points of [the] railroad" when the Ohio Underground Railroad was established.
When: Vaughan began her work in 1943 before eventually being "moved into the area of electronic computing when the first (non-human) computers were introduced at NACA."

Mary Jackson
Who: Jackson grew up in Hampton, Va., where she was born in 1921, receiving her Bachelor's degrees in 1942 in both physical science and mathematics from the Hampton Institute.
When: By 1950, she "began work as research mathematician at NACA's Langley Memorial Research Center" and was eventually "assigned to work directly with the flight test engineers."

NEXT: Katherine Johnson Went to College at 15 — Then Calculated the Path to the Moon »

Related Stories:
Female NASA Mathematician Will Receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom
MAKING HISTORY: France Córdova Becomes First Female Chief Scientist at NASA

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Katherine G. Johnson/MAKERS

MenuGearLanguageEmailInstagramFacebookLinkedInTumblrYouTubeTwitterSearchArrow RightClose XArrow Right CircleCarousel Nav DotPlayCalendar IconClosed CaptioningClosed CaptioningAd Choices