Hidden Figures Summary
by Margot Lee Shetterly

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Hidden Figures Summary

Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly, is the true story of African-American women who worked at the Langley Memorial Research Center in Virginia in the early years of the aeronautical industry. The expert work of these women in mathematics helped the industry advance and helped launch America into the space race. These women worked behind the scenes in the all black West Computing unit, and their work went unnoticed for decades, despite the fact that they masterminded some of the most important operations in the history of American space flight.

The story begins during World War II, when black women were called to fill a gap in the work force at Langley by doing calculations by hand. These women, called “human computers,” did mind-boggling computations before the digital age. With World War II on the horizon, America needed expert mathematicians in order to succeed in the space race and beat the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Shetterly focuses primarily on the work of Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Goble. She chronicles their lives and work in the segregated South, and she describes the discrimination they faced in their day to day lives. All of these women uprooted their lives to pursue opportunities at Langley, and they made accomplishments important to American history.