by Jonathan Kujawa
"Reduce your household duties! Women who are not afraid to roll up their sleeves and do jobs previously filled by men should call the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory." In 1935 the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (the arm of the US government dedicated to research and development in the new-fangled area of human flight) hired its first cohort of women computers. This was before calculations could be done effectively by machines. If you wanted equations solved and numbers crunched you needed a person who was quick with numbers and deadly accurate. With a talent shortage, and with some reluctance, the those in charge admitted that women might be up to task. When the first women arrived, the male engineers were no doubt reassured by the fact that the women would only have to calculate whatever they were given and wouldn't have to worry their pretty little heads with the actual problem solving and thinking. The women more than held their own.
With the onset of World War II the allies needed every possible advantage. It was clear that winning in the air was key to winning the war. Better, faster, more maneuverable planes were needed without delay. The NACA grew at an exponential rate and needed every clever person it could get its hands on. Word spread and soon black women were also applying for these positions. No surprise since jobs at the NACA paid at least twice the salary of a school teacher, the next best option for well-educated black women.