by Jeanne Gehret


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This movie showed how real twentieth-century heroines made strides for women’s rights. Susan B. Anthony

would have been proud to see how these women built on her firm foundation.

The three NASA women depicted in “Hidden Figures” had two strikes against them. First, they were women in “male” fields (mathematics and science). Second, they were black in a field dominated by whites.

How NASA discriminated against women and blacks:

  • Katherine Johnson of NASA had to run a half-mile in high heels just to relieve herself! I can empathize because when I matriculated as one of the first women in a certain Catholic seminary, I had difficulty finding any ladies’ room.
  • When Dorothy Vaughan’s supervisor quit, she assumed that person’s responsibilities. Despite this, she fought an uphill battle to get a promotion that acknowledged the work she was already doing. Reminds me of a story from Susan B. Anthony’s childhood when her father would not promote women to supervisory positions in his mill (even though the women knew more about the work than the men).
  • Mary Jackson had to file a legal request to attend engineering courses because she was black. This harks back to how how the University of Rochester– in Susan’s own hometown–refused to admit women without a large financial contribution.
  • Early in life Susan lamented that she received only ¼ of a man’s salary for doing the very same job. In the movie we see Katherine Johnson struggling for acceptance among male co-workers who did not have as much mathematical ability as she did. Women’s rights activists still have a long way to go on this item.

Susan would have frowned to see how long it took for American society to address some of those issues. But she would have rejoiced to see these women entering STEM fields formerly reserved for men.

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