SCUA News

Special Collections and University Archives

If you’re going to see the new movie Hidden Figures, you might not realize the connection between the “human computers” in that movie and UNCG. The film focuses on three African American women who worked as “human computers” during the 1950s and 1960s. But one of the very first human computers hired by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, precursor to NASA) was alumna Virginia Tucker (class of 1930). Tucker earned a B.A. in mathematics and a minor in education from the institution that was then known as North Carolina College for Women. After four years of teaching, she took the Civil Service exam and earned an appointment at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory (now Langley Research Center) in Virginia.

Tucker was one of five women who began work in September 1935 as Langley’s first “Computer Pool.” NACA did not have modern electrical computers, but instead relied on the work of “human computers,” a pool of female mathematicians. These women were tasked with processing the huge amounts of data coming in from wind tunnel and flight tests. Using slide rules, charts, and her deep mathematical knowledge, Tucker and the other “human computers” performed intricate calculations that enabled NACA engineers to design and perfect airplanes. By 1946, Tucker had advanced to the position of Overall Supervisor for Computing at Langley, and she was tasked with managing a department of over 400 women in computing sections across the laboratory facility.

Tucker in the 1930 Pine Needles yearbook

You can read more about Tucker in this wonderful article in the Greensboro News & Record or follow up with more detail in this Spartan Stories blog post from 2015.

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