Dorothy Vaughn, one of the hidden figures in American space history that has long been swept under the rug is now out in the open and being told in the new movie, Hidden Figures, starring Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae as the unsung Black women who were instrumental in getting the first men on the moon. Dorothy is played by award-winning actress, Octavia Spencer.
Those who speak of NASA’s pioneers rarely mention the name Dorothy Vaughan, but as the head of the NACA’s segregated West Area Computing Unit, Vaughan was both a respected mathematician and NASA’s first African-American manager.
As a college graduate and a teacher, Dorothy stood near the top of what most Negro women could hope to achieve. Teachers were considered the “upper level of training and intelligence in the race,” a ground force of educators who would not just impart book learning but live in the Negro community and “direct its thoughts and head its social movements.” She had earned a full-tuition scholarship to Wilberforce University, the country’s old private Negro college, in Xenia, Ohio. At Wilberforce, Dorothy earned “splendid grades” and chose math as her major. When she was an upperclassman, one of Dorothy’s professors at Wilberforce recommended her for graduate study in mathematics at Howard University, in what would be the inaugural class for a master’s degree in the subject.
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