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Trailblazing 18th-Century Mathematician Émilie du Châtelet, Who Popularized Newton, on Gender in Science and the Nature of Genius

“One must know what one wants to be. In the latter endeavors irresolution produces false steps, and in the life of the mind confused ideas.”

Trailblazing 18th-Century Mathematician Émilie du Châtelet, Who Popularized Newton, on Gender in Science and the Nature of Genius

A century before Ada Lovelace became the world’s first computer programmer, a century before the word “scientist” was coined for the Scottish polymath Mary Somerville, another woman of towering genius and determination subverted the limiting opportunities her era afforded her and transcended what astrophysicist and writer Janna Levin has aptly called “the enraging pointlessness of small-minded repressions of a soaring and generous human urge” — the urge to understand the nature of reality and use that understanding to expand the corpus of human knowledge.

Émilie du Châtelet (December 17, 1706–September 10, 1749), born nineteen years after the publication of Newton’s revolutionary Principia, became besotted with science at the age of twelve and devoted the remainder of her life to the passionate quest for mathematical illumination. Although she was ineligible for academic training — it would be nearly two centuries until universities finally opened their doors to women — and was even excluded from the salons and cafés that served as the era’s informal epicenters of intellectual life, open only to men, Du Châtelet made herself into a formidable mathematician, a scholar of unparalleled rigor, and a pioneer of popular science.

Émilie du Châtelet (Portrait by Maurice Quentin de La Tour)

Together with her collaborator and lover Voltaire, who considered her in possession of “a genius worthy of Horace and Newton” and referred to her jocularly as “Madame Newton du Châtelet,” she set about popularizing Newton’s then-radical ideas at a time when even gravity was a controversial notion. The resulting 1738 book, Elements of the Philosophy of Newton, listed Voltaire as the author. But without Du Châtelet’s mathematical brilliance, he — a poet, playwright, philosopher, and political essayist — would’ve been swallowed whole by Newton’s science.

Voltaire knew this and acknowledged it readily in the preface, naming Du Châtelet as an indispensable colleague. The frontispiece of the book depicted her as Minerva, the Roman goddess of truth and wisdom, beaming down upon the seated Voltaire as he wrote. Voltaire’s dedicatory poem celebrated her “vast and powerful Genius” and called her the “Minerva of France,” a “disciple of Newton and of Truth.” In a letter to his friend Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia, Voltaire was even more explicit about the division of labor in their Newtonian collaboration: “Minerva dictated and I wrote.”

Frontispiece to Elements of the Philosophy of Newton

By the end of her lamentably short life, Du Châtelet had become a dominant world authority on Newtonian physics. In her final year, she undertook her most ambitious project yet — a translation of Newton’s Principia into French, which became a centerpiece of the Scientific Revolution in Europe and remains the standard French text to this day. Du Châtelet’s accompanying commentary added a great deal of original thought and conveyed to the popular imagination the ideas that would come to shape the modern world, embodying the great Polish poet and Nobel laureate Wisława Szymborska‘s notion of “that rare miracle when a translation stops being a translation and becomes … a second original.”

But it was in another work of translation, which Du Châtelet had undertaken a decade earlier with Voltaire’s encouragement, that she first honed the art of that “rare miracle.” In the late 1730s, while living with Voltaire in her country house in Cirey and collaborating on their Newtonian primer, she read and was deeply moved by The Fable of The Bees: or, Private Vices, Public Benefits — Bernard Mandeville’s 1714 prose commentary on his 1705 satirical poem The Grumbling Hive: or, Knaves turn’d Honest, exploring ethics, economics, and the deleterious role of cultural conditioning in gender norms. It was a visionary work centuries ahead of its time in many ways, asserting that human societies prosper through collaboration rather than selfishness, outlining what psychologists now call “the power paradox,” presaging the principle that Adam Smith would term the “invisible hand” seven decades later, and making a case for equal educational opportunities for women a quarter millennium before the modern feminist movement.

Nowhere do Du Châtelet’s remarkable character and fortitude in the face of her culture’s limitations come to life more vividly than in her translator’s preface, included in her Selected Philosophical and Scientific Writings (public library) and discussed in Robyn Arianrhod’s altogether magnificent book Seduced by Logic: Emilie Du Châtelet’s, Mary Somerville and the Newtonian Revolution (public library).

Du Châtelet writes from Cirey in her early thirties:

Since I began to live with myself, and to pay attention to the price of time, to the brevity of life, to the uselessness of the things one spends one’s time with in the world, I have wondered at my former behavior: at taking extreme care of my teeth, of my hair and at neglecting my mind and my understanding. I have observed that the mind rusts more easily than iron, and that it is even more difficult to restore to its first polish.

Centuries before modern psychologists conceived of the 10,000 hours rule of genius, she argues for giving the intellect a disciplined opportunity to incline itself toward its goals through regular practice:

The fakirs of the East Indies lose the use of the muscles in their arms, because those are always in the same position and are not used at all. Thus do we lose our own ideas when we neglect to cultivate them. It is a fire that dies if one does not continually give it the wood needed to maintain it… Firmness … can never be acquired unless one has chosen a goal for one’s studies. One must conduct oneself as in everyday life; one must know what one wants to be. In the latter endeavors irresolution produces false steps, and in the life of the mind confused ideas.

In a sentiment that makes one wonder whether Schopenhauer read Du Châtelet when he conceived of his famous distinction between talent and genius a century later, she adds:

Those who have received very decided talent from nature can give themselves up to the force that impels their genius, but there are few such souls which nature leads by the hand through the field that they must clear for cultivation or improvement. Even fewer are sublime geniuses, who have in them the seeds of all talents and whose superiority can embrace and perform everything.

In a passage that calls to mind Nietzsche’s reflections on how to find yourself and the true value of education, she considers how ordinary people — that is, non-geniuses — can cultivate their talent:

It sometimes happens that work and study force genius to declare itself, like the fruits that art produces in a soil where nature did not intend it, but these efforts of art are nearly as rare as natural genius itself. The vast majority of thinking men — the others, the geniuses, are in a class of their own — need to search within themselves for their talent. They know the difficulties of each art, and the mistakes of those who engage in each one, but they lack the courage that is not disheartened by such reflections, and the superiority that would enable them to overcome such difficulties. Mediocrity is, even among the elect, the lot of the greatest number.

With an eye to the perils of self-comparison to those more fortune or more gifted than oneself, she adds:

But one must cultivate the portion one has received and not give in to despair, because one has only two arpents [French measurement] of land while others have ten lieues of land.

Émilie du Châtelet (Portrait by Nicolas de Largillière)

In a passage of courage so tremendous and so near-impossible to grasp with our modern imagination, for we have only a detached and abstract idea of what life was like for women in the early 18th century, Du Châtelet proceeds into a visionary critique of patriarchal power structures in science and in life itself:

I feel the full weight of prejudice that excludes us [women] so universally from the sciences, this being one of the contradictions of this world, which has always astonished me, as there are great countries whose laws allow us to decide their destiny, but none where we are brought up to think.

Considering the era’s standard practice of excommunicating actors from the Catholic Church, which considered them “instruments of Satan,” she adds:

Another observation that one can make about this prejudice, which is odd enough, is that acting is the only occupation requiring some study and a trained mind to which women are admitted, and it is at the same time the only one that regards its professionals as infamous.

Du Châtelet, who embodied Adrienne Rich’s notion that an education is something you claim rather than get, points to education as the fulcrum of women’s absence — for, at that point, it was an absence rather than the underrepresentation it is today — from the professional worlds of science, philosophy, and the arts, and proposes a radical vision for education reform that would bolster equality:

Why do these creatures whose understanding appears in all things equal to that of men, seem, for all that, to be stopped by an invincible force on this side of a barrier; let someone give me some explanation, if there is one. I leave it to naturalists to find a physical explanation, but until that happens, women will be entitled to protest against their education. As for me, I confess that if I were king I would wish to make this scientific experiment. I would reform an abuse that cuts out, so to speak, half of humanity. I would allow women to share in all the rights of humanity, and most of all those of the mind… This new system of education that I propose would in all respects be beneficial to the human species. Women would be more valuable beings, men would thereby gain a new object of emulation, and our social interchanges which, in refining women’s minds in the past, too often weakened and narrowed them, would now only serve to extend their knowledge.

In a bittersweet reflection on her own life, which has emboldened women in science for centuries, she adds:

I am convinced that many women are either ignorant of their talents, because of the flaws in their education, or bury them out of prejudice and for lack of a bold spirit. What I have experienced myself confirms me in this opinion. Chance led me to become acquainted with men of letters, I gained their friendship, and I saw with extreme surprise that they valued this amity. I began to believe that I was a thinking creature. But I only glimpsed this, and the world, the dissipation, for which alone I believed I had been born, carried away all my time and all my soul. I only believed in earnest in my capacity to think at an age when there was still time to become reasonable, but when it was too late to acquire talents.

Being aware of that has not discouraged me at all. I hold myself quite fortunate to have renounced in mid-course frivolous things that occupy most women all their lives, and I want to use what time remains to cultivate my soul.

Her closing words — wry, unsentimental, quietly poetic — radiate Du Châtelet’s defiant genius:

The unfairness of men in excluding us women from the sciences should at least be of use in preventing us from writing bad books. Let us try to enjoy this advantage over them, so that this tyranny will be a happy necessity for us, leaving nothing for them to condemn in our works but our names.

Seduced by Logic delves deeper into Du Châtelet’s extraordinary mind, spirit, and legacy. Complement it with pioneering physicist Lise Meitner’s only direct remarks on gender in science and this loving remembrance of astrophysicist Vera Rubin, who led the way for modern women in STEM, then revisit the story of how Voltaire fell in love with his Minerva.

BP

Truth Beyond Logic and Time Beyond Clocks: Janna Levin on the Vienna Circle and How Mathematician Kurt Gödel Shaped the Modern Mind

“The past does not exist except as a threadbare fragment in the weaker minds of the many.”

Truth Beyond Logic and Time Beyond Clocks: Janna Levin on the Vienna Circle and How Mathematician Kurt Gödel Shaped the Modern Mind

If it is true — and true it is — that creativity blooms when seemingly unrelated ideas are cross-pollinated into something novel, then its most fecund ground is an environment where minds of comparable caliber but divergent obsession come together and swirl their ideas into a common wellspring of genius. There is hardly more concrete a testament to this principle than the Vienna Circle — the collective of scientists, philosophers, and novelists, who met in Europe in the first decades of the twentieth century and shaped modern culture by bringing art and science into intimate, fertile contact. But in the 1930s, as they demolished the boundaries between these disciplines, the Vienna Circle also exposed the limits of logic as a sensemaking mechanism for the nature of reality, limitation being perhaps as necessary to creativity as freedom of thought. (“The more a person limits himself,” Kierkegaard had asserted a century earlier, “the more resourceful he becomes.”)

The paradigm-shifting ideas that emerged from that unusual petri dish are what cosmologist and novelist Janna Levin explores throughout A Mad Man Dreams of Turing Machines (public library) — her lyrical and darkly enthralling novel, partway between magical realism and poetry, yet guided by science and rigorously grounded in the real lives of two of the twentieth century’s most tragic geniuses: computing pioneer Alan Turing and trailblazing mathematician Kurt Gödel.

Inside Café Josephinum, the convening place of the Vienna Circle
Inside Café Josephinum, the convening place of the Vienna Circle

Levin casts the making of this small, enormous revolution:

A group of scientists from the university begin to meet and throw their ideas into the mix with those of artists and novelists and visionaries who rebounded with mania from the depression that follows a nation’s defeat. The few grow in number through invitation only. Slowly their members accumulate and concepts clump from the soup of ideas and take shape until the soup deserves a name, so they are called around Europe, and even as far as the United States, the Vienna Circle.

Barely a generation after Bertrand Russell shook the verdure of mysticism from the tree of knowledge to reveal the robust barren branches of logic, the Vienna Circle made it their mission to weld reality with the axe of Logical Empiricism. Levin transports us to the singular atmosphere of their gatherings:

At the center of the Circle is a circle: a clean, round, white marble tabletop. They select the Café Josephinum precisely for this table. A pen is passed counterclockwise. The first mark is made, an equation applied directly to the tabletop, a slash of black ink across the marble, a mathematical sentence amid the splatters. They all read the equation, homing in on the meaning amid the disordered drops. Mathematics is visual not auditory. They argue with their voices but more pointedly with their pens. They stain the marble with rays of symbolic logic in juicy black pigment that very nearly washes away.

They collect here every Thursday evening to distill their ideas — to distinguish science from superstition. At stake is Everything. Reality. Meaning. Their lives. They have lost any tolerance for ineffectual and embroidered attitudes, for mysticism or metaphysics.

Vienna in the 1930s. The sign, belonging to a gambling parlor, reads: "Don't let luck pass you by." A horseshoe and chimney sweep, superstitious symbols of good fortune, appear above. (Photograph:  Roman Vishniac)
Vienna in the 1930s. The sign, belonging to a gambling parlor, reads: “Don’t let luck pass you by.” A horseshoe and chimney sweep, superstitious symbols of good fortune, appear above it. (Photograph: Roman Vishniac)

The members of the Vienna Circle were endowed with minds exceeding the average not by degree but by kind — the kind of genius that risked bleeding into madness, nowhere more so than in Gödel. Levin paints his conflicting multitudes — the internal tensions that powered his, and perhaps power all, genius:

In 1931 he is a young man of twenty-five, his sharpest edges still hidden beneath the soft pulp of youth. He has just discovered his theorems. With pride and anxiety he brings with him this discovery. His almost, not-quite paradox, his twisted loop of reason, will be his assurance of immortality. An immortality of his soul or just his name? This question will be the subject of his madness.

Levin, who has written beautifully about the complex relationship between genius and madness, adds:

Here he is, a man in defense of his soul, in defense of truth, ready to alter the view of reality his friends have formulated on this marble table. He joins the Circle to tell the members that they are wrong, and he can prove it.

[…]

He is still all potential. The potential to be great, the potential to be mad. He will achieve both magnificently.

kurtgodel

In his incompleteness theorems, which he began publishing that year, Gödel set out to prove that there are limits to how much of reality mathematical logic can grasp — something many intuited but none had substantiated. (Nearly a century earlier, the pioneering astronomer Maria Mitchell articulated that intuition, if not its empirical proof, in her diary: “The world of learning is so broad, and the human soul is so limited in power! We reach forth and strain every nerve, but we seize only a bit of the curtain that hides the infinite from us.”) With poetic precision, Levin conveys Gödel’s ideas and their broader significance:

Gödel will prove that some truths live outside of logic and that we can’t get there from here. Some people — people who probably distrust mathematics — are quick to claim that they knew all along that some truths are beyond mathematics. But they just didn’t. They didn’t know it. They didn’t prove it.

Gödel didn’t believe that truth would elude us. He proved that it would. He didn’t invent a myth to conform to his prejudice of the world — at least not when it came to mathematics. He discovered his theorem as surely as if it was a rock he had dug up from the ground. He could pass it around the table and it would be as real as that rock. If anyone cared to, they could dig it up where he buried it and find it just the same. Look for it and you’ll find it where he said it is, just off center from where you’re staring. There are faint stars in the night sky that you can see, but only if you look to the side of where they shine. They burn too weakly or are too far away to be seen directly, even if you stare. But you can see them out of the corner of your eye because the cells on the periphery of your retina are more sensitive to light. Maybe truth is just like that. You can see it, but only out of the corner of your eye.

But the truth is not something everyone wants to see — it can be inconvenient, even obstructionist. In the spring of 1936, as the ideas of the Vienna Circle were becoming increasingly threatening to the Nazi party rising to power, Moritz Schlick, chair of the Vienna Circle, was shot by a former student of his on the steps of the University of Vienna, where he taught. Meanwhile, Gödel’s swirling genius was spiraling further and further into madness. Having already necessitated psychiatric care two years earlier, he was destroyed anew upon hearing of Moritz’s murder and endured an even sharper nervous breakdown that landed him in a psychiatric institution. Levin writes:

In his quiet room in the sanatorium with the narrow window over the big groomed lawn, Gödel rested alone, slumped and motionless, and wondered, where did he go? Where is Moritz?

What does it mean to say that Moritz lived in the past? Nothing. The past does not exist. The notion of a past refers to a paltry and brittle memory, incomplete and flawed. Moritz is dead. He is lost but for fragments in the minds of those who have moved around the globe since his death. The Vienna Circle died with him as the headlines condemned Moritz Schlick as a Jew sympathizer who got what he deserved at the top of the stairs in the University of Vienna at the hands of a pan-Germanic hero who rightly killed this Jew philosopher. Moritz was a Protestant. Facts of the world are sealed in minds. People wear a facade. All of reality goes on behind their eyes, and there lie secret plans and hidden agendas. A tar of false motives and intentions. Truth mauled. Because the past does not exist except as a threadbare fragment in the weaker minds of the many.

Complement the enormously invigorating A Mad Man Dreams of Turing Machines with philosopher Rebecca Goldstein on how Gödel and Einstein changed our understanding of time, then revisit Levin on free will, the vitalizing power of obsessiveness, the century-long quest to hear the sound of space-time, and her remarkable Moth story about the unlikely paths that lead us back to ourselves.

BP

Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Powered Early Space Exploration

A heartening testament to “the triumph of meritocracy” and to the idea that “each of us should be allowed to rise as far as our talent and hard work can take us.”

Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Powered Early Space Exploration

“No woman should say, ‘I am but a woman!’ But a woman! What more can you ask to be?” astronomer Maria Mitchell, who paved the way for women in American science, admonished the first class of female astronomers at Vassar in 1876. By the middle of the next century, a team of unheralded women scientists and engineers were powering space exploration at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Meanwhile, across the continent and in what was practically another country, a parallel but very different revolution was taking place: In the segregated South, a growing number of black female mathematicians, scientists, and engineers were steering early space exploration and helping American win the Cold War at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

Long before the term “computer” came to signify the machine that dictates our lives, these remarkable women were working as human “computers” — highly skilled professional reckoners, who thought mathematically and computationally for their living and for their country. When Neil Armstrong set his foot on the moon, his “giant leap for mankind” had been powered by womankind, particularly by Katherine Johnson — the “computer” who calculated Apollo 11’s launch windows and who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama at age 97 in 2015, three years after the accolade was conferred upon John Glenn, the astronaut whose flight trajectory Johnson had made possible.

Katherine Johnson at her Langley desk with a globe, or "Celestial Training Device," 1960 (Photographs: NASA)
Katherine Johnson at her Langley desk with a globe, or “Celestial Training Device,” 1960 (Photographs: NASA)

In Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race (public library), Margot Lee Shetterly tells the untold story of these brilliant women, once on the frontlines of our cultural leaps and since sidelined by the selective collective memory we call history.

She writes:

Just as islands — isolated places with unique, rich biodiversity — have relevance for the ecosystems everywhere, so does studying seemingly isolated or overlooked people and events from the past turn up unexpected connections and insights to modern life.

Against a sobering cultural backdrop, Shetterly captures the enormous cognitive dissonance the very notion of these black female mathematicians evokes:

Before a computer became an inanimate object, and before Mission Control landed in Houston; before Sputnik changed the course of history, and before the NACA became NASA; before the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka established that separate was in fact not equal, and before the poetry of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech rang out over the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Langley’s West Computers were helping America dominate aeronautics, space research, and computer technology, carving out a place for themselves as female mathematicians who were also black, black mathematicians who were also female.

Shetterly herself grew up in Hampton, which dubbed itself “Spacetown USA,” amid this archipelago of women who were her neighbors and teachers. Her father, who had built his first rocket in his early teens after seeing the Sputnik launch, was one of Langley’s African American scientists in an era when words we now shudder to hear were used instead of “African American.” Like him, the first five black women who joined Langley’s research staff in 1943 entered a segregated NASA — even though, as Shetterly points out, the space agency was among the most inclusive workplaces in the country, with more than fourfold the percentage of black scientists and engineers than the national average.

Margot Lee Shetterly
Margot Lee Shetterly

Over the next forty years, the number of these trailblazing black women mushroomed to more than fifty, revealing the mycelia of a significant groundswell. Shetterly’s favorite Sunday school teacher had been one of the early computers — a retired NASA mathematician named Kathleen Land. And so Shetterly, who considers herself “as much a product of NASA as the Moon landing,” grew up believing that black women simply belonged in science and space exploration as a matter of course — after all, they populated her father’s workplace and her town, a town whose church “abounded with mathematicians.”

Embodying astronomer Vera Rubin’s wisdom on how modeling expands children’s scope of possibility, Shetterly reflects on this normalizing and rousing power of example:

Building 1236, my father’s daily destination, contained a byzantine complex of government-gray cubicles, perfumed with the grown-up smells of coffee and stale cigarette smoke. His engineering colleagues with their rumpled style and distracted manner seemed like exotic birds in a sanctuary. They gave us kids stacks of discarded 11×14 continuous-form computer paper, printed on one side with cryptic arrays of numbers, the blank side a canvas for crayon masterpieces. Women occupied many of the cubicles; they answered phones and sat in front of typewriters, but they also made hieroglyphic marks on transparent slides and conferred with my father and other men in the office on the stacks of documents that littered their desks. That so many of them were African American, many of them my grandmother’s age, struck me as simply a part of the natural order of things: growing up in Hampton, the face of science was brown like mine.

[…]

The community certainly included black English professors, like my mother, as well as black doctors and dentists, black mechanics, janitors, and contractors, black cobblers, wedding planners, real estate agents, and undertakers, several black lawyers, and a handful of black Mary Kay salespeople. As a child, however, I knew so many African Americans working in science, math, and engineering that I thought that’s just what black folks did.

Katherine Johnson, age 98 (Photograph: Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair)
Katherine Johnson, age 98 (Photograph: Annie Leibovitz for Vanity Fair)

But despite the opportunities at NASA, almost countercultural in their contrast to the norms of the time, life for these courageous and brilliant women was no idyll — persons and polities are invariably products of their time and place. Shetterly captures the sundering paradoxes of the early computers’ experience:

I interviewed Mrs. Land about the early days of Langley’s computing pool, when part of her job responsibility was knowing which bathroom was marked for “colored” employees. And less than a week later I was sitting on the couch in Katherine Johnson’s living room, under a framed American flag that had been to the Moon, listening to a ninety-three-year-old with a memory sharper than mine recall segregated buses, years of teaching and raising a family, and working out the trajectory for John Glenn’s spaceflight. I listened to Christine Darden’s stories of long years spent as a data analyst, waiting for the chance to prove herself as an engineer. Even as a professional in an integrated world, I had been the only black woman in enough drawing rooms and boardrooms to have an inkling of the chutzpah it took for an African American woman in a segregated southern workplace to tell her bosses she was sure her calculations would put a man on the Moon.

[…]

And while the black women are the most hidden of the mathematicians who worked at the NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and later at NASA, they were not sitting alone in the shadows: the white women who made up the majority of Langley’s computing workforce over the years have hardly been recognized for their contributions to the agency’s long-term success. Virginia Biggins worked the Langley beat for the Daily Press newspaper, covering the space program starting in 1958. “Everyone said, ‘This is a scientist, this is an engineer,’ and it was always a man,” she said in a 1990 panel on Langley’s human computers. She never got to meet any of the women. “I just assumed they were all secretaries,” she said.

These women’s often impossible dual task of preserving their own sanity and dignity while pushing culture forward is perhaps best captured in the words of African American NASA mathematician Dorothy Vaughan:

What I changed, I could; what I couldn’t, I endured.

Dorothy Vaughan (top left) with other early computers (Photograph: NASA)
Dorothy Vaughan (top left) with other early computers (Photograph: NASA)

In the remainder of her beautifully written, rigorously researched, and culturally sobering book, Shetterly goes on to explore the lives of a number of the early computers: how they became who they are and what difficult choices they often had to make between their personal and professional lives — choices many of which remain just as impossible and unjust for women today.

But the particular fate of these pioneering women offers something singularly emboldening.

Shetterly reflects on the gasp of a reaction she most often faces when people first hear the story: the disorientation and discomfiting surprise of realizing they’ve been unaware that black women mathematicians not only worked at NASA but were instrumental to the feats of space exploration — feats that brought humanity together around a shared sense of pride, but a pride for which its very achievers were given no credit. She writes:

Most people are astonished that a history with such breadth and depth, involving so many women and linked directly to the twentieth century’s defining moments, has flown below the radar for so long. There’s something about this story that seems to resonate with people of all races, ethnicities, genders, ages, and backgrounds. It’s a story of hope, that even among some of our country’s harshest realities — legalized segregation, racial discrimination — there is evidence of the triumph of meritocracy, that each of us should be allowed to rise as far as our talent and hard work can take us.

Complement the wonderful and important Hidden Figures with the untold story of the women soldiers who dressed and fought as men in the Civil War and this illustrated celebration of trailblazing women in science, then revisit the story of “the rocket girls” — the Hampton computers’ West Coast counterparts.

BP

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