Mary Jackson was among a group of female scientists behind some of the biggest advances in aeronautics. In 1940 just 2% of black women got a university degree, and more than half of them became teachers. This didn’t stop Jackson from joining NACA (the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which would later become the organisation known today as NASA).
Jackson’s work underpinned some of the biggest advances in aeronautics, during some of the most defining moments of the 20th century – including World War II, the cold war, & the space race. It’s often forgotten that it was a team of all-female, all-black mathematicians working on the early technology which has enabled the biggest discoveries about outer space. (To see more about that, there’s a film coming out later this year called Hidden Figures, which tells the story of Jackson & her colleagues.)
Despite being hired by NACA as a part of this team, Jackson faced abhorrent racism in the workplace. People of Colour where separated from their white counterparts in which bathrooms they could use, what offices they could work in, & which tables they could sit at in the canteen. Advancing to work directly with the aeronautical teams or into management positions was almost impossible. & yet the black women that made up the team that Jackson was a part of were crucial to a moment that is held as one of the most iconic in human history, putting man on the moon.
Mary Jackson was also a trailblazer in the Women’s rights movement. She educated Black Women in her field on how to advance in their careers, on how to go from being mathematicians to being engineers, something which she herself had done. She also worked for the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs as the Federal Women’s Program Manager, & the Affirmative Action Program Manager.
Rosie McKenna (Women’s Officer)