In Margot Lee Shetterly’s 2016 book Hidden Figures, the author celebrates the pioneering work of Mary W. Jackson, the first Black female engineer at NASA. Now, in tribute to the incredible mathematician, NASA has announced it will rename its Washington DC headquarters after Jackson.
“We are honored that NASA continues to celebrate the legacy of our mother and grandmother Mary W. Jackson,” Jackson’s daughter, Carolyn Lewis, said in the statement. “She was a scientist, humanitarian, wife, mother, and trailblazer who paved the way for thousands of others to succeed, not only at NASA but throughout this nation.”
Jackson was born in Hampton, Virginia in 1921 and graduated from Hampton Institute with degrees in mathematics and physical sciences in 1942. After working as a math teacher, a bookkeeper, and an Army secretary, Jackson was recruited by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics—NASA’s predecessor—in 1951. Both Jackson and fellow renowned mathematician Dorothy Vaughan worked as human computers in the segregated West Area Computing Unit at the agency’s Langley Research Center. Encouraged by her supervisor, Jackson took engineering courses and became NASA’s first Black female engineer in 1958.
She conducted experiments in a 60,000-horsepower wind tunnel, coauthored critical reports on aviation and aeronautics, and joined NASA Langley’s Federal Women’s Program in 1979. Throughout her career, Jackson worked tirelessly to uplift and promote women and people of color across NASA.
She retired from the agency as an aeronautical engineer in 1985. In 2005, Jackson passed away at the age of 83.