Mini-Post | Mary W. Jackson (1921-2005)

Mary Jackson at NASA Langley, 1980. (Public domain image by NASA, Wikimedia Commons.)

Sixteen years ago today, Mary Jackson passed away. She was the first Black female engineer at NASA, and was an important advocate for women engineers, scientists and mathematicians.

Born on April 9th 1921, Jackson earned a degree in Mathematics and Physical Science at the Hampton Institute in 1942. She worked various jobs, including being a teacher, following graduation.

In April 1951, Jackson was hired by NASA (then NACA), beginning working at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory’s segregated West Area Computing Section – she reported to Dorothy Vaughan, NASA’s first African American manager.

After starting work at the 4×4 Supersonic Pressure Tunnel, Jackson needed to do an additional training programme to be promoted to engineer. In order to complete the Maths and Physics graduate-level classes, which took place at then-segregated Hampton High School, Jackson had to apply for special permission from the City of Hampton so that she could join her white peers. Jackson completed her training and went on to earn her promotion in 1958.

Jackson authored or co-authored several papers, but struggled to break into management level at NASA. In order to make sure this didn’t happen to future women at NASA, Jackson became Langley’s Federal Women’s Program Manager in 1979, taking a demotion so she could positively impact hiring and promotion.

Outside of NASA, Jackson active in the community, helping encourage young African Americans in sciences, and, amongst other things, she was a Girl Scout Troop Leader (I am a Guide leader so I love this!). The Washington D.C. Headquarters of NASA is now named after her and is located on Hidden Figures Way.

In the movie “Hidden Figures”, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, Jackson is played by Janelle Monáe.

Bibliography and read more:

Read Margot Lee Shetterly’s biography of Jackson on the NASA website here, more about Dorothy Vaughan here and the announcement of NASA headquarters in DC being named after Jackson here.

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