My Mum was a Human Computer !

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 7.11.03 PMWomen computers in 1952-53 at JPL/Caltech from The History Channel.  I was 2 or 3 years old when this was taken, living in West Seattle, WA. By that time, Mum had been replaced. No pregnancies for computers!

DSC_3734 copyMy Mum after the first date with Dad that led to marriage.  Now I understand how my Mum went toe-to-toe with my Algebra teacher! She knew her numbers! Wow!

Human Computer: Women in (WWII) and NASA [History Channel at]

“True fact”. What do people mean when they say “true fact”.  They mean a singular, isolated fact can sometimes reveal real truth we all should be able to see. “True fact”, my Mum knew her stuff.  “True fact”, like my Dad (who was a construction supervisor with Westinghouse at Hanford where plutonium was produced, she never got over that WWII secrecy about what she and Grandmum did.

She went threw the Blitz in London and hated Hitler and Nazis.  And had a strong dislike for Stalin.  On entering the USA, she immediately when to work for Lockheed/Caltech on rockets/missiles/bombers.  She was assigned to an engineer to do “just the figures” like a machine. “It was harder. Much harder than typing, she told me.”

That was all I knew, until I saw, “Hidden Figures.”  Some open questions I had all my life, seemed answered.  Why was her, as she told me, “best friend in America – Betty – a black woman from Detroit,”  somehow or other in Los Angeles, CA during the 1940’s?  She would never say as it was too sensitive to discuss in public for multiple reasons, as you might imagine.

I didn’t imagine. I even laughed once (shame on me, Mum!) when Mum said she was a human computer or just a computer. “..well, it’s hard to explain now…” Even then, I could not understand what she did, as computer was ever linked to plastic computers in my mind.  As I watched the movie “Hidden Figures”, I only wished it had come out when my Mum was alive.  She passed in the summer of 2013.  A forgotten human computer, but a loving mother. Oh Mum (R.I.P.)!

It is never too late to do right.  What I learned from “Hidden Figures” – the undertone – was this movie wasn’t really speaking to the men in the audience at all. But to millions of women.  Technically competent and mathematically articulate, women like my mother were used (or used up) when digital computers were things of the future.  Now History Channel has brought that all to the fore in this special.

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