For day 3 of our Black History Month celebration we recognize: Dorothy Vaughan!
Dorothy Vaughan was an African American mathematician, human computer, and NASA’s first African-American manager. Her story came to light in the 2016 hit film Hidden Figures where she was portrayed by Octavia Spencer.
Born on September 20, 1910, in Kansas City, MO, Vaughan shared an undeniable gift for math.
In 1929, Vaughan graduated from Wilberforce University with a Bachelor’s of the Arts in Mathematics. In 1943, at the height of World War II, Vaughan came to Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.
In 1949, Vaughan became the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA) first black supervisor, making her one of their few female supervisors. From 1949 to 1956, Vaughan served as the head of NACA’s segregated West Area Computing Unit, which was a unit compromised of all black female mathematicians whose work and computations contributed to every research department at Langley.
In 1958, when NACA became NASA, segregated facilities were outlawed; thus, Vaughan joined the new Analysis and Computation Division where she became an expert in FORTRAN programming and contributed to the Scout Launch Vehicle Program.
In 1971, Vaughn retired from NASA. Throughout the last decade of her career, Vaughan worked alongside fellow mathematicians Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson to send the first American in orbit.
On November 10, 2008, Vaughan passed away.
Vaughan’s contributions to NASA became widely known in 2016 with the success of Hidden Figures where Vaughan was portrayed by actress Octavia Spencer.