Biography of Dorothy Johnson Vaughan

This research paper explores the life and journey of how Dorothy Johnson Vaughan became a female African-American mathematician who worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics(NACA) in 1940-1970. A woman who excelled at the facility in many ways despite the fact that she was an African-American and a woman in the era of segregation between race and gender. Her excellence along with other African-Americans such as Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson are the reason for the achievements in the Space Race and bringing confidence back to America’s space program. She along with these two women are subject in the 2016 film “Hidden Figures”.

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Dorothy Johnson Vaughan was a mathematics teacher in the early 1940’s. As an African-American and a woman, this was a significant role in American history considering both parts were put down in this era. She was the first of her kind to be promoted as a supervisor in NACA’s (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) program, which is now called NASA. She became one of the most memorable figures along with other female African-American mathematicians who are the subject to a 2016 film “Hidden Figures.”
On September 20,1910, Dorothy was born in Kansas City, Missouri; however, she also was raised in Morgantown, West Virginia. Her parents were Leonard and Anne Johnson. In 1925, she graduated from Beechurst High school and went straight to Wilberforce University in Ohio where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics. After college, she was accepted a position as a math teacher at Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia. In 1932, she married Howard Vaughan whom she had six children with. Their names areAnn, Maida, Leonard, Kenneth, Michael and Donald (Biography).
This was her life for eleven years until she and her family moved to Newport News, Virginia to be employed as a mathematician at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. This was placed at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia where she thought would be just a temporary position. She was assigned to a segregated group that consisted of all African-Americans, called West Area Computers (Shetterly). This is where she also met Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson (the other subjects to the film “Hidden Figures”). She underwent working beneath the conditions of segregation with these women and many other African-Americans.
Dorothy was appointed acting supervisor of the program in 1949, after the death of her manager and thus become the first African American woman to be promoted in the agency. It took two years for her to achieve permanent status in that position. After NACA became NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) in 1958, she continued her work there. NASA, at the time, worked as a part in ending racial segregation at the facility. She also had to prepare for the introduction of machine computers in the early 1960’s by teaching herself and her staff the programming language of FORTRAN (Melfi).
In the last decade of her employment with NASA, she worked with Mary and Katherine on the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, which brought confidence back to America’s space program. She remained at NACA for twenty-eight years until such time as her retirement in 1971 at age 60. Dorothy died of natural causes at the age of ninety-eight on November 10, 2008, in her hometown of Hampton, Virginia (Biography).
References Editiors. (2016, November 14). Dorothy Johnson Vaughan. Retrieved from
Melfi, T. (Director). (2016). Hidden Figures [Motion picture]. USA: Fox 2000 Pictures, CherniEntertainment, Levantine Films,TSG Entertainment.
Shetterly, M. L. (2016, December 1). Dorothy Vaughan Biography | NASA. Retrieved from

Biography of Katherine Johnson

This autobiography is focused on Katherine Johnson, the human computer and mathematician. Her triumphs were a part of the civil rights movement, as she was one of the few federally employed African Americans specifically by NASA. While continuously fighting for the betterment of her education and career, she was successful in helping put the first man into space. In fact, it was John Glenn himself who requrested Mr. Johnson’s confirmation of the BMI’s calculations before boarding Friendship 7. She was a necessity in the launch and landing of America’s first space shuttle, providing to millions of Americans that a black person was just as capable as any. She was also the first black women integrated into West Virginia University’s college. Her contributions to our country rewarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.

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Katherine Johnson was born in our very own home state on August twenty-sixth in the early fall of nineteen eighteen. She was born and raised in White Sulphur Springs, Greenbrier County, West Virginia. Her mother and father were Joshua and Joylette Coleman. She wa the youngest of four siblings, and both of her parents worked; her mother was a teacher and her father worked at the Greenbrier Hotel. They both loved Katherine dearly and wanted to further her education once they realized the great potential that she had. Many African Americans her age did not go past the eighth grade. Quickly, her parents enrolled all four of their children into high school on the campus of West Virginia State College. Traveling back and forth one hundred and fifty miles to White Sulphur Springs and Institute gave Katherine the opportunity to dream big just at the age of ten.
Once Katherine graduated high school, she applied and was accepted into West Virginia State College which may also be known as West Virginia State University today. During her childhood she loved numbers, growing up she loved numbers, and as she aged she grew into a mathematician. While attending college, Katherine took advantage of every opportunity given to her. Many of Katherine’s professors recognized her determination as she took every math course available. A woman named W.W. Schiefflin Claytor even went to lengths to create her new math courses.
At the age of eighteen, Katherine graduated college and accepted a teaching position at an African American public school in Virginia. Shortly after graduation, she met her first husband, James Goble, and married him in year of nineteen thirty-nine. Being the first African American in history to desegregate West Virginia University, Katherine enrolled into the graduate program. After one session, she decided to quit and start a family. Luckily at a family gathering, thirteen years later in nineteen fifty-two, a relative mentioned that the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was hiring mathematicians. The next year, she was offered a job which she accepted and became a part of NASA.

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Until nineteen fifty-eight, Katherine worked as a computer analyzing topics such as gust alleviation for aircraft. She was then assigned to help the male flight research team temporarily. Blowing away her bosses and colleagues with analytic geometry proved her position there, so she stayed. Taking on racial and gender discrimination was hard for Katherine; however, she persevered by ignoring them and sticking to her work.
Throughout her career, she worked as an aerospace technologist, and was promoted to the Spacecraft Control Branch. She contributed and took place in major historical events and accomplishments for America such as John Glenn’s orbit around Earth, the Mercury mission, and putting the first man into space! She was expected to calculated trajectories, launch windows, and to plot navigational plots for astronauts in case of electronic failures. John Glenn specifically asked officials to have Katherine verify the calculations made by the computer, stating that he refused to fly otherwise. Her work ensured Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 Mercury capsule would be found after it had landed. Her trajectories were required for the nineteen sixty-nine Apollo 11 flight to the moon. She helped creating a one-star observation system that would allow astronauts to determine their location with accuracy; After all, her concern was “getting them (astronauts) back.” Since there, she has worked on the Space Shuttle program, the Earth Resources Satellite, and on plans for a mission to Mars. West Virginia University presented her with a Presidential Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters for attaining national and international preeminence in the field of astrophysics and providing distinguished leadership and service in her field while the former President of the United States awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.