Last week, when I opened the book Hidden Figures in a hair salon, one of the stylists rushed over to me.
“Is that the book?!” she exclaimed. “I didn’t realize there was a book, too.” I assured her that this was indeed the book on which the movie was based. I urged her to read it, and not just see the movie.
I saw the movie, and it’s great—but reading the book is a much richer experience. Since this is Women’s History Month, I couldn’t think of a greater topic to write on than the women whose stories are told in Hidden Figures.
Math Opens Doors
The book examines the lives of four extraordinary women, beginning with Dorothy Vaughan, portrayed in the movie by Octavia Spencer, who, I believe, got the film’s best lines.
A gifted math teacher, Vaughan and her husband struggled financially because of their low-wage work. She signed up for a temporary assignment at the precursor to NASA—and stayed until she retired. Her example of hard work, determination, and far-sightedness inspired me.
Katherine Johnson, the famed computer who impressed seemingly everyone who knew her, including astronaut John Glenn, is also an inspirational figure. I appreciated the anecdote about the white male colleague, who looked at her and then left, causing her to wonder if she’d offended him in some way. But instead of dwelling on it, she simply assumed the best and ate her lunch. Within two weeks, the two were fast friends, discovering that they both hailed from West Virginia.
And I loved how Mary Jackson, one of NASA’s first female engineers, helped her son compete in a soap box derby. I don’t want to give too much away, but Jackson’s energy, fearlessness, and brilliance could not be contained.
Reading about these women, including Christine Darden—who met Johnson at church and ended up the first black woman at NASA’s Langley Research Center to be promoted to a senior executive service post—opened a window onto a community of financially stable, well-connected, and well-educated black people, at a time when most struggled under the strictures of Jim Crow.
Get the full story: don’t just see Hidden Figures—read the book!