Hidden Figures

by

Margot Lee Shetterly

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Dorothy Vaughan is a strong-minded, black mathematician who joins Langley as a human computer in 1943 and then works her way up to become the organization’s first black section head. She is extremely pragmatic and fiercely devoted to her church and her children. Taking the job as a mathematician at the NACA means leaving her small town life, something that frightens her, though she embraces the opportunity to make more money to support her family. At the NACA, she climbs from computer to section head, supervising the onboarding and placement of computers who go on to become leaders in their fields, like Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson. Worried she’ll be replaced in her role by electronic computers, she teaches herself the programming language FORTRAN and paves the way for other female mathematicians, black and white, to learn it as well. Over the course of the book, she evolves from an ambitious young woman to a vocal force for equality at the NACA, where she fights to make sure women are paid fairly for their titles and duties.

Dorothy Vaughan Quotes in Hidden Figures

The Hidden Figures quotes below are all either spoken by Dorothy Vaughan or refer to Dorothy Vaughan. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Racism and Inequality Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the William Morrow Paperbacks edition of Hidden Figures published in 2016.
Chapter 2 Quotes

Dorothy worked as a math teacher…. As a college graduate and a teacher, she stood near the top of what most Negro women could hope to achieve. Teachers were considered the "upper level of training and intelligence in the race” a ground force of educators who would not just impart book learning but live in the Negro community and "direct its thoughts and head its social movements.” Her in-laws were mainstays of the town's Negro elite. They owned a barbershop, a pool hall, and a service station. The family's activities were regular fodder for the social column in the Farmville section of the Norfolk journal and Guide, the leading Negro newspaper in the southeastern United States. Dorothy, her husband, Howard, and their four young children lived in a large, rambling Victorian house on South Main Street with Howard's parents and grandparents.

Related Characters: Margot Lee Shetterly (speaker), Dorothy Vaughan, Howard Vaughan
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

…At the end of November 1943, at thirty-two years old, a second chance—one that might finally unleash her professional potential—found Dorothy Vaughan. It was disguised as a temporary furlough from her life as a teacher, a stint expected to end and deposit her back in the familiarity of Farmville when her country's long and bloody conflict was over. The Colemans' youngest daughter would eventually find the same second chance years in the future, following Dorothy Vaughan down the road to Newport News, turning the happenstance of a meeting during the Greenbrier summer into something that looked a lot more like destiny.

Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

The American mosaic was on full display, youngsters barely over the threshold of adolescence and men in the sinewy prime of manhood, fresh from the nation's cities, small towns, and countrysides, pooling in the war towns like summer rain. Negro regiments piled in from around the country. One detachment was composed entirely of Japanese Americans. Enlistees from Allied countries, like Chinese medical officers and the first Caribbean Regiment, presented themselves to the port's commanding officers before shipping out. Companies of the Women's Army Corps (WACs) stood ramrod straight and saluted. The port band sent soldiers off with "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” "Carolina in My Mind,” "La Marseillaise”—the melodies of a hundred different hearts and hometowns.

Related Characters: Dorothy Vaughan
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

In 1940, just 2 percent of all black women earned college degrees, and 60 percent of those women became teachers, mostly in public elementary and high schools. Exactly zero percent of those 1940 college graduates became engineers. And yet, in an era when just 10 percent of white women and not even a full third of white men had earned college degrees, the West Computers had found jobs and each other at the "single best and biggest aeronautical research complex in the world.”

Related Characters: Dorothy Vaughan
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

As if trying to redeem his own professional disappointment through the achievements of one of the few students whose ability matched his impossibly high standards, Claytor maintained an unshakable belief that Katherine could meet with a successful future in mathematical research, all odds to the contrary. The prospects for a Negro woman in the field could be viewed only as dismal. If Dorothy Vaughan had been able to accept Howard University's offer of graduate admission, she likely would have been Claytor's only female classmate, with virtually no postgraduate career options outside of teaching, even with a master's degree in hand. In the 1930s, just over a hundred women in the United States worked as professional mathematicians. Employers openly discriminated against Irish and Jewish women with math degrees; the odds of a black woman encountering work in the field hovered near zero.

Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Hidden Figures LitChart as a printable PDF.
Hidden Figures PDF

Dorothy Vaughan Character Timeline in Hidden Figures

The timeline below shows where the character Dorothy Vaughan appears in Hidden Figures. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: Mobilization
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In the summer of 1943, 32-year-old Dorothy Vaughn works in the sorting station of a massive laundry room at Camp Pickett in... (full context)
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Dorothy, a recent college graduate, also works a job in Farmville, Virginia as a teacher. Teachers... (full context)
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Dorothy eagerly accepts the work at Camp Pickett, even though another woman in her position and... (full context)
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Dorothy knows the money she is making at the laundry will buy school clothes and help... (full context)
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Dorothy was born in 1910 in Kansas City, Missouri. Her mother died when she was two,... (full context)
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At Wilberforce,  Dorothy’s  professors recommended her for a master’s degree in mathematics at Howard University, which was the... (full context)
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Dorothy lost her job, however, when the Depression led the school to close after her first... (full context)
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In 1943, Dorothy goes to the post office and sees Melvin Butler’s bulletin advertising jobs at the NACA.... (full context)
Chapter 3: Past is Prologue
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It’s 1943. Dorothy is a member of her local parent-teacher association and a founding board member of her... (full context)
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After filing her application to the NACA, Dorothy wins a place there as a Mathematician, Grade P-1, where she’ll earn more than twice... (full context)
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Dorothy waits at the Greyhound bus station to board the bus to Newport News, 137 miles... (full context)
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Dorothy had supported her husband’s travels for his hotel work. The year before, they’d moved to... (full context)
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...be a full-time wife to her husband, a chemistry teacher named Jimmy. Both Katherine and Dorothy followed parallel trajectories in that they chose not to pursue master’s degrees even though they... (full context)
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Meanwhile, on the bus to Newport News at the end of November 1943, 32-year-old Dorothy Vaughn has taken a temporary furlough from her job as a teacher to accept the... (full context)
Chapter 4: The Double V
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Dorothy Vaughn disembarks from her bus in Newport News, a booming hub of military manufacturing activity.... (full context)
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...project for workers in Newsome Park, designed to fix the sudden housing shortage, is where Dorothy will eventually live. (full context)
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Dorothy lives in Hampton Roads, a region straining under the weight of segregation. Complicated Jim Crow... (full context)
Chapter 5: Manifest Destiny
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Dorothy Vaughn swears the US Civil Service Oath and accepts her employee badge, a blue metal... (full context)
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...green to camouflage the facility against possible attack by Axis forces. Arriving at her office, Dorothy finds herself in a futuristic arena featuring the Sixteen-Foot High-Speed Tunnel, which stretches three hundred... (full context)
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Dorothy gets dropped off at the Warehouse Building. Through one window, she has a view of... (full context)
Chapter 6: War Birds
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...the world. White boys from MIT and Virginia Tech fight to enter the place where Dorothy has already won a spot. (full context)
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The lab sponsors engineering physics classes for new computers. Two days a week after work, Dorothy and the other new computers take immersion classes in the fundamental theory of aerodynamics. They... (full context)
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In the early days of flight, aeronautics evolved quickly. Dorothy, like most people at that time, has never even flown on a plane, so she... (full context)
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Dorothy learns that fighter planes are complicated tools that can be deployed in many different situations... (full context)
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Either way, Dorothy’s apprentice work as a mathematician is making a difference in the war effort. She also... (full context)
Chapter 7: The Duration
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Over the July 4 holiday in 1944, Dorothy still doesn’t know whether she will be made a permanent employee at Langley or whether... (full context)
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Newsome Park, Dorothy’s new neighborhood, has been built as temporary housing for workers during the war, but black... (full context)
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Dorothy commits to her new lease without knowing the status of her employment at Langley. Newsome... (full context)
Chapter 8: Those Who Move Forward
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...as a bellman at the Greenbrier, the country’s most exclusive resort. (It was here that Dorothy Vaughan’s husband, Howard, and Joshua would later become friends.) Katherine also worked in the hotel... (full context)
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...research mathematician, but she is happy to work as a schoolteacher. Meanwhile, in Hampton Virginia, Dorothy Vaughan is paving the way for women like Katherine to help propel aeronautics research into... (full context)
Chapter 9: Breaking Barriers
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Dorothy’s husband Howard Vaughan continues to work at the Greenbrier Hotel alongside Joshua Coleman, Katherine’s father.... (full context)
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The other West Computing area women become surrogate aunts and uncles to Dorothy Vaughan’s children. They organize picnics and retreats along the river. This freeform socializing (different from... (full context)
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Dorothy worries that she might be fired after the war ends. Luckily, it turns out that... (full context)
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Dorothy has been at Langley for three years by this point. Her work is flawless and... (full context)
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...the women are so good at their jobs, those who are against them soon quiet. Dorothy Hoover, a black computer with a master’s degree in mathematics, is the first black computer... (full context)
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...and begins speaking unintelligibly. After that she is transferred to a sanatorium and a hospital. Dorothy is appointed to take her place as the acting head of West Computing. (full context)
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...they only become supervisors in other divisions with many female employees. For most black women, Dorothy Vaughan’s position as West Area supervisor is the highest they can expect to go. She... (full context)
Chapter 10: Home by the Sea
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...worked as a clerk typist then accepted an offer to work as a computer for Dorothy Vaughan, eight years after Dorothy had first joined the NACA. (full context)
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...Computers played a role in both elements. More and more women came to work for “Mrs. Vaughan.” Mary Jackson was one of the young women swept up in the growing wave of... (full context)
Chapter 11: The Area Rule
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Two years after Mary Jackson joins West Computing, Dorothy Vaughan sends Mary to the East Side to staff her on a project with a... (full context)
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A different female engineer—the woman who paved the way for black computers, Dorothy Hoover— continues to build an illustrious publication record, publishing studies on aircraft wings and other... (full context)
Chapter 12: Serendipity
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...the NACA, Katherine works an entry-level job filling out data sheets under the supervision of Dorothy Vaughan. Then she is asked to join the Flight Research Division, one of the most... (full context)
Chapter 13: Turbulence
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In 1954, Dorothy Vaughan secures Katherine’s permanent position (and pay raise) as a member of the Flight Research... (full context)
Chapter 14: Angle of Attack
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...Senator Harry Byrd tries to resist the desegregation order for longer than any other state. Dorothy Vaughan signs up to take computation classes at Hampton Institute, the local black college. (full context)
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...charms like Katherine does or on the group support provided for women by leaders like Dorothy Vaughan. (full context)
Chapter 16: What a Difference a Day Makes
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Dorothy Vaughan now works out of the building that housed the Unitary Plan Wind Tunnel, Building... (full context)
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...Around this time, the West Area Computers Unit is dissolved. The women left behind, including Dorothy Vaughan, have to find a new place for themselves. (full context)
Chapter 18: With All Deliberate Speed
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Katherine, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan push their children to excel in school and concentrate on getting into college. They... (full context)
Chapter 19: Model Behavior
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...work to community service. She is able to do her job because of women like Dorothy Vaughan and Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Hoover, who demonstrated that black women are capable of... (full context)
Chapter 20: Degrees of Freedom
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Langley begins to desegregate more rapidly. Dorothy Vaughan and the rest of the remaining West Area computers join other engineering groups. Dorothy... (full context)
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Dorothy teaches herself FORTRAN, the programming language for IBM computers. NASA purchases more computers to support... (full context)
Chapter 21: Out of the Past, the Future
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...and reaching higher ranks than they ever had before. West Computing no longer exists, but Dorothy Vaughan works with the new IBMs. Katherine Johnson plays the most immediate role in human... (full context)
Chapter 22: America is for Everybody
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...Baez all perform. King addresses the crowd and gives his “I Have a Dream” speech. Dorothy Vaughan completes twenty years of service to the Federal Government. (full context)
Epilogue
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Dorothy Vaughn retires in 1971 after being passed over for a promotion to section head of... (full context)