Agnes Scott College

Dorothy Vaughan

vaughan

September 20, 1920 - November 10, 2008


Contributed by Kenza Madhi, Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter NH

Dorothy Vaughan was born on September 20th, 1910, in Kansas City, Missouri. When she was 7 (1917), she and her family moved to West Virginia. After attending Wilberforce University, she received a degree in mathematics. She started working as a math teacher in Virginia and married Howard S. Vaughan. She began working for NACA's West Area Computing unit, which was a designated group of mathematics that were Black women. They performed complex calculations and data analysis for the aerospace engineers. Dubbed the "West Computers," they were crucial to the success of the US space program. Despite hard segregated conditions, Dorothy Vaughan became NACA's first Black supervisor, as well as one woman out of a few in the Association. She held this position from 1948 until 1958 when NACA merged into NASA and the segregated buildings were closed. Vaughan and many West Computers joined the Analysis and Computation Division.

At this time NASA started using electronic computers instead of manual computations, and Dorothy Vaughan studied the FORTRAN computer programming language. She retired in 1971 and died on November 10, 2008.

Dorothy was a pioneer in the early space program. She overcame discrimination and segregation, and led the West Computers to becoming a highly respected division in NACA. She was an advocate for her computers as well as other women in the program. Oftentimes engineers would specifically request Dorothy and the West Computers because they trusted their judgement and knowledge.

References

  1. Margot Lee Shetterly, "Dorothy Vaughan Biography", https://www.nasa.gov/content/dorothy-vaughan-biography
  2. "Dorothy Vaughan, American Mathematician", https://www.britannica.com/biography/Dorothy-Vaughan