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Woman of the Week – Christine Darden: a hidden Hidden Figure

Posted February 06, 2017 9:07 AM by IronWoman

Most of what you want in life will be because of your discipline. Discipline is perhaps more important than ability.”

—Dr. Christine M. Darden

20th Century Fox’s Hidden Figures has been one of the most anticipated films of 2017. Filled with intellect and vigor, the piece centers around three women – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson – who are called to action by NASA in the 1960s. According to a link on AIP: Center for History of Physics’ website, “[u]pon WWII, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802,…bann[ing] racial discrimination in government defense industries. A shortage of male workers due to the war allowed unprecedented numbers of women and African Americans to enter industries previously restricted to them. It was in this context that the first African American women computers were hired at Langley to compensate for a shortage of male mathematicians. Though the industries were opening,…segregation continued and Black computers were called the ‘West Computers’ or ‘West Area Computers’…they were restricted to the West Area of the Langley facility. With their restrooms, cafeteria, and routes in the building completely separate, many white computers at Langley were actually unaware of the presence of their Black counterparts.”

Despite blatant isolation, opposition, and discrimination, the West Computer employees set out to be more than unsung heroes. While its motion picture adaptation focuses solely on Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson, Margot Lee Shetterly’s original novel draws attention to four women. The name of the mystery mathematician not portrayed in the film is Christine Darden.

Christine Mann Darden was born September 10, 1942 in Monroe, NC. Having attended Allen High School, Hampton Institute, Virginia State University, and George Washington University, Darden briefly ceased her studies after earning her doctorate in Mechanical Engineering (specializing in Fluid Mechanics). She worked as a high school and college math teacher before being offered a position in 1967 as a female mathematician for data processing. While employed at the station – then known as Langley Research Center –, Christine received a certificate of advanced study in Management from Simmons Graduate School of Management in Boston, MA.

After eight years of employment at the center, Darden decided that it was time for a change. She took it upon herself to approach her supervisor about gender discrimination in the sought-after engineering sector. Because of her poise and assertiveness, Darden was offered a job as aerospace engineer – a rare role for black women to earn in the mid- to late twentieth century. The main focus for her and the team was sonic boom minimization in levels caused by complex supersonic spacecraft configurations. It wasn’t long – four years, in fact – before Christine was asked to become technical leader of the research program at hand and oversee her team’s success.

In her forty year career at NASA, Darden also acted as technical consultant on numerous projects while authoring over fifty publications in fields such as sonic boom prediction, sonic boom minimization, high lift wing design in supersonic flow, and flap design. For her achievements, according to a biography on The History Makers, “Darden received the Dr. A. T. Weathers Technical Achievement Award from the National Technical Association in 1985…[and] the Senior Executive Career Development Fellowship from Simmons College in 1994. NASA recognized Darden with the Certificate of Outstanding Performance ten times between 1973 and 2003. Not only has Darden received the NASA medals for equal opportunity and for achievement in leading the sonic boom program, she is also the recipient of the 1987 Candace Award for Science and Technology from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women and the 1988 Black Engineer of the Year Award from the publishers of U.S. Black Engineer & Technology magazine.”

Christine Darden is quoted on Black History Pages as saying: "[y]ou have to be ready when opportunity comes…[a]nd you have to be persistent." Here’s to a woman who deserves as much recognition of her accomplishments as the effort she has put in, helping to enhance and change NASA for the better. Thank you for living true to your words, Christine Darden.

References

http://blackhistorypages.net/pages/cdarden.php

https://www.nasa.gov/centers/langley/news/researchernews/rn_CDarden.html

http://thehumancomputerproject.com/women/christine-darden

http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/christine-darden

https://www.aip.org/sites/default/files/history/files/LessonPlan_JohnsonDardenandWestComputers.pdf

https://airandspace.si.edu/explore-and-learn/topics/women-in-aviation/darden.cfm

https://www.ncwit.org/profile/christine-mann-darden

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#1

Re: Woman of the Week – Christine Darden: a hidden Hidden Figure

02/06/2017 11:02 AM

Very interesting.

But the statement - "Of the two mystery mathematicians, one of them is Christine Darden.", begs the question: who was the fifth woman? Next weeks WoW?

Also, why were both of them not included in the movie?

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#2
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Re: Woman of the Week – Christine Darden: a hidden Hidden Figure

02/06/2017 11:35 AM

Great question; upon further investigation, it seems there were only FOUR women portrayed in Shetterly's novel (another source misinformed me, I found, after I re-read the synopsis of the book itself. The blog has since been fixed.).

That is definitely something I will research; so far, it seems that Darden began her career at NASA (then Langley) five years after Johnson, Jackson, and Vaughan. I've provided the link below if you'd like to read even more about her.

http://www.charlotteobserver.com/entertainment/ent-columns-blogs/lawrence-toppman/article130289044.html

Thanks for the question!

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Re: Woman of the Week – Christine Darden: a hidden Hidden Figure

02/06/2017 11:53 AM

Thanks!

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Re: Woman of the Week – Christine Darden: a hidden Hidden Figure

02/07/2017 10:19 PM

" Of the two mystery mathematicians ". I can't locate that sentence, where did you see it ?

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Re: Woman of the Week – Christine Darden: a hidden Hidden Figure

02/09/2017 11:09 AM

Author here - after I found that I was misinformed from one of the sources I referenced, I edited my blog to indicate that there were only four women in Shetterly's novel (not five, hence the removal of "[o]f the two mystery mathematicians...").

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#4

Re: Woman of the Week – Christine Darden: a hidden Hidden Figure

02/07/2017 6:48 AM

Was she paid the same as her male counterparts?

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Re: Woman of the Week – Christine Darden: a hidden Hidden Figure

02/07/2017 8:57 AM

From what I can see, she was not.

One source tells me "NASA could take advantage of the knowledge conferred upon her [Darden] through her degree, but wouldn’t assign her a position [at first] or corresponding pay grade that was commensurate with it."

http://www.biography.com/news/hidden-figures-movie-real-women

On her page, Margot Lee Shetterly also briefly states that, upon hiring females, "[a] 'girl' could be paid significantly less than a man for doing the same job."

http://margotleeshetterly.com/hidden-figures-nasas-african-american-computers/

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Re: Woman of the Week – Christine Darden: a hidden Hidden Figure

02/07/2017 9:32 AM

A crime!

If I'm elected President, I will add to the Lilly Ledbetter law and allow women to sue for back pay! What ever the difference is between what they got and what their male equivalents got. PLUS INTEREST!

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Re: Woman of the Week – Christine Darden: a hidden Hidden Figure

02/07/2017 10:27 PM

President of what ? NASA ?

What I want to know is if the restroom in, " the west wing", had a a sign over the door that said, " Colored " or " Other ".

How, or who decided that NASA should be segregated ?

And when did NASA finally become integrated ?

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Re: Woman of the Week – Christine Darden: a hidden Hidden Figure

02/22/2017 3:39 AM

President of the United states of America.

Here's the site: www.7532020.com

I figured its like I'm in a broken down car at the side of the road. Not going to get anywhere till I fix it.

Be the Prez for 4 years*, fix this mutha, then I can get back to being an inventor.

*Yes, everything always takes twice as long, so probably 8.

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