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D.C. moves to name block outside NASA HQ ‘Hidden Figures Way’

“These women computers played an integral role in the development of aeronautical and aerospace research”

NASA’s headquarters
Mark Van Scyoc/Shutterstock

Update, Dec. 4: At its Dec. 4 legislative meeting, the D.C. Council preliminarily approved a bill to ceremonially designate the NASA headquarters street as “Hidden Figures Way.” The Council must approve the bill on second reading—in two weeks—before it can become law.

Original post, Oct. 9:

The D.C. block where NASA’s headquarters is located is poised to be symbolically named “Hidden Figures Way” in the coming months thanks to a unanimously supported effort by District elected officials “to honor the historic women scientists and mathematicians who contributed to NASA’s mission despite adversity.”

A bill floated last month by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and co-introduced by his 12 colleagues would bring the title of the 2016 biographical film and book to the 300 block of E Street SW. Other District streets have also been symbolically named for historic people and institutions, like Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street NW.

When proposing the addition of ceremonial street signs to the block, Mendelson noted that from the 1930s to the 1970s, numerous women worked for NASA and its predecessor—the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics—as “human computers.” Those like the ones depicted in “Hidden Figures,” including Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary W. Jackson, did important and complex calculations by hand.

Some were college-educated African American women whom NASA had begun recruiting in the 1940s. They experienced discrimination based on race and gender in the workplace.

“Despite facing segregation and adversity, these women computers played an integral role in the development of aeronautical and aerospace research during turning points in our nation’s history, including World War II and the development of the Space Task Force, which was responsible for launching John Glenn into space and Project Apollo,” said Mendelson.

The bill is set for passage this fall, after which “Hidden Figures Way” street signs would be installed on the block. NASA has occupied its current headquarters building since 1992.