From the 1930s to the advent of the digital computer in the early 1960s, several hundred female “human computers” were hired by the federal government. Their task was to calculate numbers and to manually solve the equations necessary for new generations of airplanes, the first American rockets, and the first U.S. manned space flights. They worked with pen, paper, and analog adding machines. The need for these workers was so great that even in those days of rampant racial discrimination, black women were hired as well as whites.

This is the story of three remarkable “Colored” computers who challenged Jim Crow restrictions and with their intelligence, hard work, and persistence became valued members of NASA and helped the U.S. put a man into orbit around the earth.

Using this Learning Guide, students will be introduced to: (1) a unique and fascinating episode in American history; (2) the struggles of black women to reach racial and gender parity in the workplace; (3) the accomplishments of black women in technical fields and their contributions to America’s efforts in aeronautics and the space race; (4) the disruptive influence of WWII and the Cold War on patterns of employment and discrimination, disruptions which helped lay the groundwork for the rise of feminism and contributed to the Civil Rights Movement; and (5) some of the effects of Jim Crow.

Click here for the Learning Guide to Hidden Figures.

Related Article