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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”.

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

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