Mary Jackson was born April 9, 1921 to Ella and Frank Winston in Hampton, Virginia.
Mary earned her bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physical science in 1942.
She married Levi Jackson in November 1944. Levi was in the Navy. The couple had 2 children.
Mary was a school teacher and a Girl Scout leader. In 1951, she went to work at the Office of the Chief Army Field Forces at Fort Monroe in Hampton.
By the end of the year, she had been recruited by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (which would later become NASA). She was a mathematician at Langley Research Center in the West Area Computing Section. Black and white workers were segregated at the time.
Mary and the other African-American women that worked in this department as “computers” were integral in getting the first American in orbit.
In 1953, Mary went to work in the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel. This was a wind tunnel that was used to study the effects of wind on model planes.
Her supervisor encouraged her to take additional classes in math and physics so that she could become an engineer. The courses were offered by the University of Virginia, but were held in the evenings at an all-white high school.
Mary petitioned to be allowed to take the classes. She won, finished the courses and became an aerospace engineer in 1958. She was NASA’s first female African-American engineer.
In 1979, Mary had done all she could do in the engineering department. She took a position as an Equal Opportunity Specialist. This was technically a demotion, but had more opportunity for future growth.
She became the Federal Women’s Program Manager and the Affirmative Action Program Manager. She helped many women and minorities seek and advance careers in science, engineering and math.
Mary retired from NASA in 1985. She passed away on February 11, 2005.
In 2018, Jackson Elementary in Salt Lake City, Utah was renamed Mary Jackson Elementary.
In 2019, Mary was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
In June 2020, the NASA headquarters building in Washington D.C. was renamed Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters.
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