Margot Lee Shetterly, writer of Hidden Figures, was born in 1969 in Hampton, Virginia. Her mother was an English professor at Hampton University and her father worked as an atmospheric scientist at NASA- Langley Research Center. While visiting her father regularly at work Shetterly grew up knowing many other people of color that worked for NASA and became a common thing for her. After graduating college from the University of Virginia’s McIntire School of Commerce, she worked several jobs such a former investment banker, entrepreneur and also did work in media startups.
After years of listening to her father’s stories about some of the mathematicians and engineers at NASA, Shetterly came to the realization that there was so much that was left in the dark. There was so much she did not realize about the women who worked at Langley and what they’ve had to overcome. Shetterly knew that no one would get to learn of these so called “hidden” woman and had a desire to share their stories.
She began to research and familiarize herself about the West Area Computers, the women who worked for NASA at the Langley Research Center from the 1930s through 1960s.
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly is a novel that takes place between the 1930s through the 1960s when women were still frowned upon and seen inferior to men. Throughout the book Shetterly takes readers on a journey of what it was like for a woman, particularly of color, during this time in age.
The novel shows how many barriers were broken and how many doors were open for these women and women to come. While Shetterly focuses on the women’s success’s inside of NASA, she also focuses on the racism and ongoing segregation going on around them just outside of Langley facility.
As one turns the pages of Hidden Figures, one can see the numerous forms and styles of symbolism used to portray a variety of things throughout the book. There is 23 chapters that all have unique names, some including “Manifest Destiny”, “War Birds” and, “Mobilization”. Although there are explanation embedded within the chapter to reveal why the titles were selected, Shetterly chose these titles to allow the reader to relive these events that led to shaping American history. The novel In Hidden Figures, it depicts how in the early 1930s and 1940s women who worked for NASA were only white women. Asa Phillip Randolph, a close friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and young civil rights and labor activist pushed for President Roosevelt to make “lucrative war jobs for negro applicants” (Shetterly, 2016). After extreme persistence to pursue her goals, President Roosevelt issued an executive order in 1941 that banned employment discrimination by federal agencies and this began the push to recruit African American women for human computing positions. Unfortunately, due to segregation at the time, the Black women of the West Area had to be separate from the white women. During the book, Shetterly focuses primarily on the lives of four African American women who were mathematicians during the time the novel took place. The names of the four women include Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden. Throughout the novel, Shetterly shows how each woman contributed to breaking the barriers of segregation and advancements made for women all over the world. Dorothy Vaughn began working for NASA in 1943 and through her extreme determination became the first black supervisor of the West Computer Area in 1949. Under the management and training of Vaughn, Mary Jackson began working for NASA in 1951 and survived many bumps in the road and survived resulting in her becoming the first successful black female engineer at NASA. She later quit as an engineer and became Langley’s Federal Women’s Program manager. The last women Shetterly focuses on throughout her book is Katherine Johnson. After just a few weeks of being employed by NASA, Johnson moved to the Space Task Force and was the first women to attend important meeting that involved the mathematics and logistic aspects for flights taken to space.
Shetterly’s choice of diction throughout the book keeps readers engaged and reliving the historical events that these women encountered. This book is filled with symbolism from within the chapter titles and juxtapositions between the women’s professional lives at NASA and their personal lives. Hidden Figures (2016) is a great read for elementary grades and higher. Its also a great read for students interested in mathematics but who might feel discouraged due to their race as well as teachers to promote the discussion of STEM careers and important historical events. Lastly this book would make a great read for women and men. Women may look at Shetterly’s novel as a form of inspiration to pursue a career that is viewed superior or dominant to men and men to get a inside feel on the importance of equality for both genders.
Throughout Hidden Figures written by Margot Lee Shetterly there are many techniques she utilizes in order to place the readers in the life of these “hidden” women. Through symbolism, juxtapositions, the use of historical events and her active writing style she allows the readers to make a true connection to the story and feel what it was like to be in the position and situations faced by these women. Shetterly tells stories that would otherwise be left in the dark and empowers people around the world. Although the West Area computers officially ended in 1958 the impact Vaughn, Jackson, and Johnson made was profound and truly changed the lives of many people, especially women today.