How do Jackson and Johnson’s experiences pursuing an education contribute to readers understanding of the effects of discrimination in Hidden Figures?

Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson's respective experiences reveal the barriers faced by Black women who wanted to further their careers through higher education. Katherine was the only Black woman in her graduate mathematics program, and she may not have been able to attend graduate school at all if schools hadn't been forced to integrate. In addition to the difficulties in accessing higher education in the first place, both Mary and Katherine experienced racism and sexism in the workplace at NASA.

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Education is supposed to give people a better life. Many are encouraged to pursue a higher education in the hopes that it will further their careers. Mary Jackson, however, finds setbacks at work despite her high education:

Compared to the white girls, she came to the lab with as much education, if not more . . . But to be confronted with the prejudice so blatantly, there in that temple to intellectual excellence and rational thought, by something so mundane, so ridiculous, so universal as having to go to the bathroom . . . In the moment when the white women laughed at her, Mary had been demoted from professional mathematician to a second-class human being.

Mary's education does not protect her from discrimination.

Katherine Coleman Johnson is able to pursue a higher education only because of integration. West Virginia integrated, and she was accepted to West Virginia University in 1940. Katherine studies hard so she has the opportunity to pursue a master's degree, but she ends up leaving school to start a family. This shows how women, especially black women, were expected to be housewives and prioritize family over careers. Katherine is able to return to her career later in life, but she has to put aside her master's degree for a time due to societal discrimination.

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