Mary Jackson

Women in STEM
Mary Jackson

Birth: 1921

Death: February 11, 2005

Specialty: Engineering

Major Contributions:

30 year career at NACA/NASA

One of first promoted from mathematician to engineer

Helped diversify workforce at NASA

Image: Bob Nye / NASA

Mary Winston Jackson grew up in Hampton, Virginia, and received her bachelor’s degree from Hampton Institute in Mathematics and Physical Science. After graduation from college, she was briefly a schoolteacher in Maryland, then began her long career with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), later the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

Jackson began her career with NACA as a computer – the title given to women mathematicians at the time. She specialized in analyzing data from wind tunnel experiments and from actual aircraft on the many flight experiments that NACA conducted.

As her career progressed, she began to recognize that many minorities and women were not advancing as fast as she thought they should and so she began analyzing the situation to see what was holding them back. Occasionally it was as simple as a lack of a couple of courses, the location of the individual, or the assignments given to them. Jackson advised women on how to change their titles from “mathematician” to “engineer” and increase their promotion potential; advice she followed herself. She was the first Black woman at NASA to become an engineer then an aerospace engineer.

After 34 years, Jackson had reached her highest potential as an engineer and looked seriously at her own advancement. She decided to step down from her engineering position for an administrative professional position in the equal opportunity specialist field. She had to take a step back in pay and status to do this. But she was very successful, initiating many changes and bringing to management’s attention the accomplishments of minorities and women. She was instrumental in the hiring of some of those highly-qualified individuals.

In her personal life, she served as a Girl Scout leader for over thirty years and opened her home to many of the new hires at Langley, helping them to find their place in a new job and new town. She died on February 11, 2005 leaving a legacy of changing the face of the engineering workforce at NASA. In 2016 Mary Jackson was one of the pioneers featured in the book “Hidden Figures” which was made into an award-winning motion picture the next year. In 2021, NASA’s headquarters in Washington, DC was renamed the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters Building.

Written by Nicole Hutchison


Mary Jackson (NASA)

Mary Winston Jackson (Daily Press Obituaries)

Black Women Scientists in the United States by Wini Warren

NASA and the Legacy of Eminent Black Scientists and EngineersHistory of NASA Langley

See Also:

Hidden Figures (Margot Lee Shetterly)Janelle Monáe Joins Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer in ‘Hidden Figures’