7 Hidden Figures Characters You Need to Know

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform summary of "Hidden Figures" by Margot Lee Shetterly. Shortform has the world's best summaries of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here .

Who are the Hidden Figures characters? What Hidden Figures characters beyond the main characters play important roles?

In addition to the Hidden Figures main characters, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan, there are many Hidden Figures characters who help dismantle racism and sexism at NASA through their work and accomplishments. Keep reading to find out more about Katherine, Mary, Dorothy, and more Hidden Figures real-life characters.

Hidden Figures Main Characters

These Hidden Figures main characters are the focus of the book and are considered some of the best scientists of their time. The Hidden Figures real-life characters are brilliant women, who strove to make a difference and do their jobs.

1. Katherine Johnson

Katherine Goble (later known to history as Katherine Johnson), a brilliant young mathematician from West Virginia. In 1952, she and her husband moved to Hampton Roads, drawn by the emerging job opportunities for black professionals and the opportunity for Katherine to work on exciting projects like the ones at Langley. Like those who had come to Hampton Roads during World War Two, Katherine found a ready-made community waiting to accept her and her family, helping her fill the void of the world she’d left behind in her native and beloved West Virginia. 

2. Dorothy Vaughan

In 1943, Dorothy filled out her application to work as a mathematician at Langley. In the fall, she received her answer: she was hired to work as a Grade P-1 Mathematician at Langley for the duration of the war. Her pay would be more than twice what she was earning as a high school teacher. Although the job would take her away from her husband, her children, and the community that she loved (they would only be able to see her during school breaks and scheduled visits), she knew she could not let this opportunity pass her by.

3. Mary Jackson

In 1951, a new 26-year-old hire named Mary Jackson made her way to West Computing. Whereas so many of her predecessors had been “come-heres,” transplants from other parts of the country, Mary was a “been-here:” she’d grown up in Hampton Roads and had deep roots in that part of Virginia. She graduated from high school in 1938, after which she had enrolled at Hampton Institute, an all-black college founded on the idea of self-help and practical and industrial training.

There are many more Hidden Figures real-life characters who don’t play a central role in the books, but whose contributions are just as important.

Additional Hidden Figures Characters

The Hidden Figures characters involved in the story all played a role in helping NASA achieve its goals, and in desegregating the organization. Hidden Figures characters like Miriam Mann staged a daily protest, while astronaut John Glenn’s faith in Katherine Johnson’s abilities allowed her to be a bigger part of the mission. The Hidden Figures characters each have a unique story to tell.

4. Christine Mann (Darden)

Christine Mann had always been fascinated by the idea of space and now saw that the subject had been thrust to the forefront of the national conversation. As a proud American, she didn’t want to let the Soviets dominate the universe beyond the Earth’s orbit, and she was determined to help her country get into space.

After graduating from The Allen School in 1958, Christine matriculated at Hampton Institute, Mary Jackson’s alma mater. She was on her own collision course, destined to meet the black female engineering pioneers at Langley who had come before her and make her own contributions to the “civilian army of the Cold War.”

5. Dorothy Hoover

The integration of the computing functions at Langley was a watershed moment at the laboratory and opened new doors to the black women who worked there. In 1946, a unit conducting stability analysis research integrated a former West Computer, Dorothy Hoover, into its group full-time. In 1951, Dorothy Hoover would co-publish a report on a new wing-design for airplanes, contributing to one of Langely’s major breakthroughs from this era. She eventually went on to a prestigious academic career in mathematics at Arkansas AM&N. Her achievement was followed by others, as more West Computers moved to specialized divisions.

6. Miriam Mann

Seeing the sign on the table where they sat at the back of the cafeteria that read, “COLORED COMPUTERS” every day was deeply insulting and offensive for the West Computers. One day, a West Computer named Miriam Mann could take it no more. She walked over to the sign, removed it, and stuffed it into her purse.

This prompted a mini struggle for equal treatment within Langley. The sign was back up a few days later, prompting Miriam to take it down once again. This back-and-forth played out over the course of weeks, but Miriam and her fellow computers were determined to take a stand against this small, but potent symbol of oppression, and she proves the influence of Hidden Figures characters and the changes they made in the workplace.

7. John Glenn

The man whom Katherine and her group would be launching into orbit was a name that would become known to history—John Glenn. The logistical hurdles of launching and returning a satellite were complicated enough. Doing so with a human being inside made it vastly more challenging. The extreme temperatures and radiation could be extremely dangerous for Glenn. Moreover, the NASA leadership knew that his death during the mission would be a public relations nightmare for the agency and for the United States as it sought to gain the upper hand in the Cold War.

Each of the Hidden Figures characters plays an important role at NASA and in the story of overcoming the obstacles of racism and sexism. The Hidden Figures main characters are known for their outstanding contributions to science, and for creating a legacy at NASA that allowed Black women to keep fighting for their equality and pushing boundaries.

7 Hidden Figures Characters You Need to Know

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best summary of Margot Lee Shetterly's "Hidden Figures" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Hidden Figures summary :

  • How brave black women were instrumental to the American space race
  • How they confronted racism and sexism to forge a better future
  • Their enduring legacy in American history

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *