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The Indomitable Mary Jackson

With a degree in history, I enjoy researching and writing about historical events that the history books tend to gloss over.


Education and Early Life

After the blockbuster hit Hidden Figures, most Americans now know the name of Katherine Johnson, and that’s great! However, another woman by the name of Mary W. Jackson also made history. Born in 1921 in Hampton, VA as Mary Winston. She graduated high school with the highest honors going on to earn her bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physical science from Hampton University in 1942. Two years later she married Levi Jackson.


The Road to NASA

Mrs. Jackson soon began teaching math at a school in Maryland. During this time however, Hampton had become a center for the home effort of WWII and Mrs. Jackson returned home to be a part of it. She worked quite a few different jobs over the next several years and had two children. In 1951, she began working at Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory’s West Area Computing section under the direction of Dorothy Vaughan- the first woman of color to become a supervisor there.



It was here that Mrs. Jackson’s career was launched. After two years of acting as a human computer, she was offered a position with Kazimierz Czarnecki working on a Supersonic Pressure Tunnel. Mrs. Jackson was given hands on experience conducting experiments and was eventually encouraged to undergo training to become an engineer. As a woman of color in the segregated South, Mrs. Jackson required special permission from the city of Hampton, VA to attend training classes with her white peers, which she received. In 1958, she became the first female woman of color to become a NASA engineer. Further, she co-authored her first report titled Effects of Nose Angle and Mach Number on Transition on Cones at Supersonic Speeds. By 1975, she had authored and co-authored twelve NACA and NASA technical publications.


Lasting Legacy

Mrs. Jackson broke through gender and racial bias through her career yet never entered management level. In 1979, she bravely changed careers once again in an effort to aid future female mathematicians, engineers, and scientists. She became Langley’s Federal Women’s Program Manager. Mrs. Jackson believed science and service went hand in hand. As a result, she spent much of her time volunteering. She is noted as helping children in her community create a miniature wind tunnel for testing airplanes in the 1970’s. She is noted as saying “Sometimes they are not aware of the number of black scientists, and don’t even know of the career opportunities until it is too late.”


Mary Jackson, History of Scientific Women, https://scientificwomen.net/women/jackson-mary-104

Eric Vitug, Mary W. Jackson, NASA, https://www.nasa.gov/langley/hall-of-honor/mary-jackson

Margot Lee Shetterly, Mary W. Jackson Biography,NASA, https://www.nasa.gov/content/mary-w-jackson-biography


James C Moore from Joliet, IL on March 03, 2021:

I was immediately drawn to read your article having read the book

but not having seen the movie. I was as impressed with her person as I was reading about her scientific savvy. As smart as she was if Mary Jackson doesn't have that "dog" about her, she doesn't get the opportunity to do what she accomplished. Those who read "Hidden Figures" would know what I'm talking about.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 03, 2021:

This is a very interesting article, Brandy. Mary Jackson sure paved a road for other women of color, which I imagine was not easy.

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