The African American women who helped America dominate aeronautics, space research, and computer technology during World War II, are set to receive Congressional Gold Medals after the ‘Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act’ was signed into agreement.
The story of how recipients Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson prepared astronaut John Glenn’s 1962 orbital mission as the US beat the Soviet Union (USSR) in the Space Race was told in the Oscar-nominated movie Hidden Figures which also depicts their simultaneous struggle against sexism and racism during a time of segregation.
The bill requires the Speaker of the House of Representatives and President pro tempore of the Senate to arrange for the presentation of the medals to the women for their history-making work at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia.
One Congressional Gold Medal will go to Johnson, in recognition of her service to the United States as a mathematician. The 101-year-old is the only one of the women still living.
One Congressional Gold Medal will go to Katherine Johnson (center), in recognition of her service to the United States as a mathematician. Left to right; Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer pose backstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards February 2017
In 2015, Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and in 2017, NASA honored her with the Katherine Johnson Computational Research Facility in Hampton.
Two Congressional Gold Medals are in commemoration of the lives of Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson in recognition of their service to the United States during the Space Race.
Dr. Christine Darden will receive a Congressional Gold Medal for her service to the United States as an aeronautical engineer.
Darden was not portrayed in the 2016 the motion picture starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae but she features in the book the movie is based on.
One Congressional Gold Medal will also be awarded in recognition of all the women who served as computers, mathematicians, and engineers at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) between the 1930s and the 1970s.
The bill was introduced) in the House February by Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX).
A Congressional Gold Medal will go to Dr. Christine Darden (left in 2018 and right 1973) for her service to the United States as an aeronautical engineer. She featured in the book but not film
Female NASA employees, hired to perform mathematics calculations and known as ‘human computers’, including (L-R) Dorothy Vaughan, Leslie Hunter, and Vivian Adair, 1950
Left to right; Octavia Spencer, Taraji P Henson, Janelle Monae portray them in 2016 motion picture, Hidden Figures
In 1935, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (referred to in this section as ‘NACA’) hired five women to serve as the first ‘computer pool’ at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory where those women took on work making calculations that male engineers had made previously.
(2) During the 1940s, NACA began recruiting African-American women to work as computers and initially separated those women from their White counterparts in a group known as the ‘West Area Computers’ where the women were restricted to segregated dining and bathroom facilities.
It was passed in the House September 19 on motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill, as amended Agreed to by voice vote.
It was then passed by Congress without amendment by unanimous consent in October 17.
‘I am thrilled to hear that the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act has been signed into law by the President,’ Chairwoman Johnson said in a statement. ‘This bill was long overdue, and I would like to thank my colleagues in both the House and the Senate for supporting this legislation.
‘Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, Christine Darden, and all the women of NASA and NACA will now receive the recognition they deserve for their great accomplishments in the successes of the United States space program.’
It was passed in the House September 19 on motion to suspend the rules and pass the bill, as amended Agreed to by voice vote. It was then passed by Congress without amendment by unanimous consent in October 17
Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) was the lead sponsor in the Senate.
‘I am proud President Trump signed into law this bipartisan bill to honor Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Dr. Christine Darden and all women who contributed to NASA during the Space Race with Congressional Gold Medals,’ Senator Coons stated.
‘Women played an integral role at NASA during the Space Race, but for many years their accomplishments remained hidden. With the signing of this bill, we are recognizing these extraordinary women and bringing their accomplishments into the light so they can serve as an inspiration for generations of women scientists to come, particularly those of color.’
Jackson’s medal will be given to her granddaughter, Wanda Jackson.
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, said in September: ‘This is an exciting opportunity to honor the pioneering generation of female mathematicians for their commitment and service to NASA and to our country.
‘The women who did this work came from across our country and each of their hometowns should embrace them as heroes.’
In 2017, NASA honored Johnson with the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility
NASA space scientist, and mathematician Katherine Johnson receives an award at NASA Langley Research Center on February 4, 1985 in Hampton, Virginia