Issue 6 Magazine Women's History Spread

Hidden Figures and Women in Mathematics

Women’s History Month not only reminds us to honor the past, but also inspires the future. Throughout history, women have endured many challenges, including underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering, and math. The film Hidden Figures tells the story of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, three African-American female mathematicians who served a vital role in the success of NASA’s early space program and the Space Race through calculations of orbital mechanics. These women, first referred to as “human computers,” quickly rose up the NASA ranks alongside some of the brightest minds in history. Not only do these women’s mathematical abilities inspire men and women alike, but their strength and resilience outside of work awes audiences just the same. The film follows the Women’s Suffrage Movement and draws attention to these admirable women. Although women had been granted equal rights on paper in 1920, implicit bias lingered in society, media, and the workplace alike. These women were the brains behind one of the most important moments in space exploration history and have received their rightful recognition through this movie. They dissolved gender, racial, and professional lines through their brilliance and strength. The female stereotypes in the movie show audiences the resilience of these mathematicians when faced with countless obstacles. 

The film has sent ripples of female empowerment across the United States and beyond. Hidden Figures is particularly impactful to young women, encouraging girls to pursue or study a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) related field. Gatherings of up to 10,000 young girls popped up all over the United States to view the film. Through the defiance of many stereotypes we see today, Hidden Figures serves as an important example of the abilities of women and girls in STEM environments. The strength and endurance shown in the film highlights just what many American women continue to exemplify throughout history and in present day. “Every time we get a chance to get ahead they move the finish line, every time.” -Mary Jackson