Mary Jackson was born on April 9, 1921 in Hampton, Virginia, and grew up during the Jim Crow Era in which segregation and discrimination against black Americans was legalized and systemic. Despite the social and legal adversity she faced as a black woman, Jackson graduated from Hampton Institute in 1942 with degrees in both mathematics and physical sciences. In 1951 Jackson was recruited by NACA, NASA’s predecessor, and worked in the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory’s West Area Computers for two years. Jackson then began to work alongside NASA’s engineers and was encouraged to enter a training program to become an engineer herself. In order to complete her training, Jackson attained special permission to attend graduate level math and physics classes offered at a segregated, white-only school. After completing those classes and her training program, Jackson became NASA’s first African American female engineer in 1958. As time went on and she excelled as an engineer, Jackson noticed how difficult it was for women to be hired and promoted within NASA. As a result of this observation, Jackson left her engineering job behind in 1979 and began working in a ‘reduced’ administrative position as Langley’s Federal Women’s Program Manager. In this capacity, Jackson lobbied hard to hire and promote the next generation of brilliant female mathematicians, engineers, and scientists that had too often been overlooked. She continued to impact the hiring and promotion processes until her retirement from NASA in 1985, where she left behind a legacy of strength, brilliance, courage, and solidarity.
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