UNCG Shares Story Of Alumna Virginia Tucker, Trailblazer For Women Portrayed In ‘Hidden Figures’

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Tucker, one of five women to join Langley's first human computer pool, helped pave the way for NASA's female mathematicians

Virginia Tucker at her desk at Langley in 1946.

Virginia Tucker at her desk at Langley in 1946.

Over the course of twelve years, Virginia Tucker had ascended from a subprofessional employee to the most powerful woman at the lab.

With the highly-anticipated film “Hidden Figures” set to open in theaters across the nation on Jan. 6, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) is sharing the story of alumna Virginia Tucker (Class of 1930), a trailblazer for the female mathematicians – known as “computers” – highlighted in the film.

Tucker was one of five women to join the first human computer pool at Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory (now Langley Research Center) in 1935. Langley was the main research center for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the precursor to NASA.

When World War II broke out in 1939, more women were recruited as computers to conduct wind tunnel testing and other critical research for the military. Tucker recruited heavily at institutions across the East Coast, including UNCG (known then as the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina). According to Margot Lee Shetterly, author of the book that inspired the movie, UNCG graduated one of the largest cohorts of women who went on to work as human computers.

By the early 1940s, Tucker was the head computer, tasked with managing hundreds of women in computing sections across the laboratory. In her book, Shetterly writes:

“Over the course of twelve years, Virginia Tucker had ascended from a subprofessional employee to the most powerful woman at the lab. She had done so much to transform the position of computer from a proto-clerical job into one of the laboratory’s most valuable assets. … Between 1942 and 1946, four hundred Langley computers received training on Tucker’s watch.”

In 1947, Tucker left civil service for a position as an aerodynamicist at Northrop Corporation, one of the nation’s leading aviation companies. Although she was no longer at Langley, her legacy continued to pave the way for female mathematicians, including the three African-American women whose inspiring stories are told in the movie “Hidden Figures.”

To learn more about Tucker and to schedule an interview with UNCG’s university archivist, please contact Alyssa Bedrosian at (336) 334-9769.

About The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, located in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina, is a high-research activity university as classified by the Carnegie Foundation. Founded in 1891 and one of the original three UNC system institutions, UNCG is one of the most diverse universities in the state with more than 19,600 students and 2,500 faculty and staff members representing more than 90 nationalities. With 86 undergraduate degrees in over 100 areas of study, as well as 52 master’s and 28 doctoral programs, UNCG is consistently recognized nationally among the top universities for academic excellence and value, with noted strengths in education, health and wellness, the performing arts, business and the arts and sciences, among others. For additional information, please visit uncg.edu and follow UNCG on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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