For all of her life, Mary’s dream was to inspire others and help improve their lives through science. After leaving high school with the highest grades anyone was able to achieve, she also gained a degree in Physical Sciences and Mathematics, after which her career began.
Her career began during a time of segregation in the United States, and, from her first job as a Mathematics teacher, it took a total of 4 career changes until Mary ended up at NASA in a segregated computing section where she provided data for the success of the U.S. space program.
Due to her work, she was promoted to work on a supersonic pressure tunnel and entered a training programme to promote her to an Engineer. At the time, however, the training course was not available for African American individuals.
She did not let this setback stop her, and in fact, fought for her spot to be there. Not only did she complete the training, she got promoted and became the first black female Engineer that NASA had.
Although the promotions initially seemed to be a good thing, they slowed to a halt. Mary saw this amongst all of her female colleagues, who were good enough for management positions but were not promoted to them- a concept we now know as the ‘Glass Ceiling’. Angry at this, Mary demoted herself to a position of the Manager of the Women’s program, where she fought hard for equal rights for women at NASA.
Her love for science didn’t end with her career, she was also a Scout leader for over 30 years and helped the African American children in her community to build a wind tunnel for testing aeroplanes. In an interview, she stated that “We have to do something like this to get them interested in science, sometimes they are not aware of the number of black scientists, and don’t even know of the career opportunities until it is too late.”
Last updated March 2021.