President's Lecture Series

St. Philip's College Announces the 2018 President's Lecture Series

The St. Philip’s College President’s Lecture Series provides opportunities for the college and the community to hear speakers’ perspectives on a broad range of local, regional, national and international issues. The lectures are provided at no cost to the audience and are designed to attract students, faculty, and staff as well as the greater San Antonio Community.

Margot Lee Shetterly - September 20, 2018, 11 a.m., Watson Fine Arts Center

Margot Lee Shetterly

Margot Lee Shetterly, author of "Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race," will be at St. Philip’s College on Sept. 20, 2018 at 11 a.m. in the Watson Fine Arts Center as part of the President’s Lecture Series.

The pioneering women — Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, Kathryn Peddrew, Sue Wilder, Eunice Smith, Barbara Holley and others — impacted defining movements of the American century: the Cold War, the Space Race, the Civil Rights movement and the quest for gender equality.

Shetterly is also founder of The Human Computer Project, an endeavor to recover the names and accomplishments of all of the women who worked as computers, mathematicians, scientists and engineers at National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) from the 1930s through the 1980s.

After the start of World War II, Federal agencies and defense contractors across the country coped with a shortage of male number crunchers by hiring women with math skills. America’s aeronautical think tank at Langley Research Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia, created a pool of female mathematicians who analyzed endless arrays of data from wind tunnel tests of airplane prototypes. Women were thought to be more detail-oriented, their smaller hands better suited for repetitive tasks on the Friden manual adding machines. A “girl” could be paid significantly less than a man for doing the same job. And male engineers, once freed from laborious math work, could focus on more “serious” conceptual and analytical projects.

The war also opened doors for African-Americans. In 1941, under pressure from labor and civil rights leaders such as A. Phillip Randolph, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802, which created the Fair Employment Practices Committee, and prohibited race-based discrimination in the country’s defense industry. Shortly thereafter, help wanted notices began appearing in Negro newspapers around the country, looking for blacks to fill positions at Federal agencies and defense contractors. Employment ads appeared for machine shop workers, laborers, janitors—and African-American women with math degrees.

These women were nearly all top graduates of historically black colleges such as Hampton Institute, Virginia State and Wilberforce University (Ohio). Though they did the same work as the white women hired at the time, they were cloistered away in their own segregated office in the West Area of the Langley campus. Despite the hardships of working under Virginia's Jim Crow laws, these women went on to make significant contributions to aeronautics, astronautics, and America's victory over the Soviet Union in the Space Race.

Shetterly is a Hampton, Virginia native, and daughter of a longtime Langley employee. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia, an entrepreneur, and an intrepid traveler who spent 11 years living in Mexico. Today, she lives in Charlottesville, VA.