Margot Lee Shetterly was born in 1969 and grew up in Hampton, Virginia. She is an alumnus of the University of Virginia, where she studied business. After finishing college, she worked several years in investment banking, and ventured into other career moves. Her career paths included the media and tourism industry; she was a writer for volume.com and a marketing consultant. In 2005, she moved to Mexico to begin writing magazines in English, around the same time the brainstorming began for her next goal.
New York Times Bestseller, Hidden Figures was her first book ever written. The book was so powerful it was also released as an Oscar nominated movie in 2016. When visiting her father at Langely, Virginia, Shetterly and her siblings remembered coming across other African Americans. It was thus common for her to see Blacks who had taken an interest in science or working at church for National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), within her neighborhood, and in the vicinity of the Hampton community. Later, Shetterly came to realize that there were a lot of things she did not know about the women who were working at Langley, through listening to her father’s stories about some of the mathematicians and engineers at NASA. While having the privilege to learn about some of the women through her father’s stories, Shetterly realized that there was an audience of people who would never come to find out about these concealed women unless someone told their stories. Driven by her curiosity to know more, Shetterly began researching about the Black women who worked at the Langley Research Center for NASA.
Shetterly, the founder of Human Computer Project, passionately shows us the crucial and less-known story about the black mathematician women who were employed to work as though they were computers in Hampton, at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory, as Aeronautics at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The first women that NACA hired took advantage of a World War II chance to work in an isolated section of Langley, supporting the white male engineers’ projects by doing the necessary calculations. Shetterly writes about these women as the main contributors to the success of America while in the middle of a cultural war between race, gender and science, teasing of how intimately related the personal and professional are. Shetterly celebrates the accomplishments of mathematicians such as Dorothy Hoover, Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson, whose splendid work finally earned them slow progress but never the same footing. She gathers most of her information directly from those who were at Langley, using personal reports to shed some light on the larger forces at hand. By exploring the close relationships amongst womanhood, blackness, and the 20th-century American technological development, Shetterly comes up with a narrative that it is important to understand the subsequent movements for civil rights.
Shetterly shines some much-needed light on the smart, gifted, and wholly unappreciated geniuses of the organization that would become the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. These women were called upon during the World War II labor shortage, and were requested to put their previously neglected skills to work and serve their country while being isolated from their white colleagues. The author informs us about the compelling stories of the mathematician women as they solved mathematical equations, navigated the space race, and also the civil rights movement throughout three decades of brilliant computing skills and discoveries. The professional women and their private lives at Langley Research Center are documented through an intense emotion and evidently, a well-explored narrative. Readers will gain knowledge about how essential these women were to American aeronautics and be sad about the racial discrimination and sexism that hindered them from their well-earned recognition. Shetterly’s work is highly recommended and offers an important history that had formerly been lost. This book should be put into the hands of young women who have long since been discouraged and told that there is no place for them in advancing the scientific world.
Hidden Figures takes readers on a mathematical and historic space adventure. Reading about the accomplishments of the four protagonists and as referred in the book, black women computers will encourage and educate readers. Hidden Figures can prompt one to begin or continue pursuing a career in the field of mathematics. In addition, it sweeps across generations and allows for students to ponder and come to the realization that there are no boundaries to their future dreams. As (Lee Shetterly) states, “To keep on moving forward, they [the Black women computers] needed to capitalize on every chance to make themselves as worthy as possible to the laboratory” (p.139). As they became innovators, setting standards and breaking barriers, these women were allowed to advance from hidden to visible since they achieved this effort. Hence, the mission for all who read Hidden Figures is to encourage, support, and expose future women to mathematics to make their own path of success and strive to ascertain that they are no more hidden figures.