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About Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson

Born: 26th August 1918, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, United States

Died: 24th February 2020, Newport News, Virginia, United States


Katherine Johnson showed strong mathematical abilities from an early age and at college took every mathematical course going.  She graduated in 1937 with a degree in Mathematics and French.  She then became the first black African American woman to attend graduate school at West Virginia University.


Katherine Johnson decided on a career as a research mathematician, although this was a difficult field for African Americans and women to enter. The first job she found was a teacher in an all back school until she was offered a job as part of an all women pool of mathematicians at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA).  Katherine apparently referred to the women in the pool as virtual "computers who wore skirts". Their main job was to read the data from the black boxes of planes and carry out other precise mathematical tasks. 


Katherine continued to face racial and gender barriers; for example the African American women in her pool were required to work, eat, and use restrooms that were separate from those of their white peers. Their office was labeled as "Colored Computers".  But, Katherine ignored the discrimination, asking to be included in meetings (where no women had gone before). She simply told people she had done the work and that she belonged.


Katherine Johnson then went on to work as an aerospace technologist, carrying out key calculations for many of the most famous space flights including the Apollo 11 moon landing.


Katherine Johnson spent her later years encouraging students to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).