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NASA’s DC Headquarters Renamed After “Hidden Figures” Pioneer

Mary W. Jackson was the agency's first Black female engineer.

Photography courtesy of NASA

NASA’s headquarters building in DC is being renamed after of the agency’s first Black female engineer, Mary W. Jackson, whose struggle against racism was featured in the 2016 film Hidden Figures.

“Mary W. Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement last week announcing the development. “Mary never accepted the status quo, she helped break barriers and open opportunities for African Americans and women in the field of engineering and technology.”

The Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building, in Southwest DC, is located on what is now called Hidden Figures Way. The section of the street was renamed in 2019 to honor Jackson as well as two Black colleagues, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan, whose lives and careers were also featured in the movie, which was based on a book by Margot Lee Shetterly.

After graduating in 1942 with degrees in math and physical science from Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia, Jackson was recruited by the agency that became NASA; she went on to work as a research mathematician in a racially segregated computer unit of the agency. While pursuing the additional education she would need to advance to an engineering position, she was forced to obtain special permission to take classes that were held at a racially segregated high school. She became the agency’s first Black female engineer in 1958, and over the next nearly 20 years, she conducted a great deal of valuable research on wind behavior during airplane flight. Later, when she joined the agency’s Federal Women’s Program, she turned her attention to the effort to bring more female scientists and mathematicians to NASA.

Jackson passed away in 2005.

“We are honored that NASA continues to celebrate the legacy of our mother and grandmother Mary W. Jackson,” Jackson’s daughter, Carolyn Lewis, said in a statement. “She was a scientist, humanitarian, wife, mother, and trailblazer who paved the way for thousands of others to succeed, not only at NASA, but throughout this nation.”

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Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.