By Karen Stokes
The movie “Hidden Figures” highlighted three remarkable Black women that carved out a place for themselves at NASA being key players during the space race in the 1960s at the height of racial segregation in the U.S.
Dorothy Vaughan was the first Black supervisor at the advisory committee, Mary Jackson became the agency’s first Black female engineer and Katherine Johnson’s incredible calculation skills played a key part in the planning of Project Mercury and Apollo 11, among other missions.
There are multiple “hidden figures” in history that have brilliantly contributed to the lives of people worldwide. Three notable women are Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, Constance Baker Motley and Patricia Bath.
Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, (1898-1989) a Philadelphia native developed the blueprint for the 1960 civil rights movement. She was the first Black person in the nation to earn a Ph.D. in economics in 1921. Three years later, she earned a law degree at the University of Pennsylvania and went on to become the first Black woman to pass the Pennsylvania bar and practice law in the state.
President Harry Truman named her to his Committee on Civil Rights, her report became the blueprint for the 1960s civil rights movement. Thirty years later, President Jimmy Carter appointed her Chair of the White House Conference on Aging, which sought to address the social and economic needs of the elderly.
Attorney Constance Baker Motley (1921-2005) was the first Black woman to attend Columbia Law School. In 1964 she became the first African-American woman elected to the New York State Senate. Two years later, President Lyndon Johnson appointed her as the first Black woman to become a federal judge. Motley was also a leading figure in the desegregation of Southern universities and public spaces.
Inventor, ophthalmologist Patricia Bath (1942-2019) was a leader in the field of ophthalmology. She is best known for inventing the laserphaco probe, a minimally invasive device and technique that performs all steps of cataract removal, from making the incision to destroying the lens to vacuuming out the fractured pieces.
Recognized as the first Black female physician to receive a medical patent, according to the NIHF, the first Black woman to complete a residency in ophthalmology at New York University and the first woman to chair an ophthalmology residency program in the U.S. (the King-Drew-UCLA Ophthalmology Residency Program), to name just a few of her accolades. Bath’s inspiring legacy continues to this day through Community Ophthalmology, which works to address threatening eye conditions in historically underserved communities.
There are many more “hidden figures” to learn about. Even though history declined to document or support the accomplishments of African American women it does not diminish the fact that these women have shattered glass ceilings and the world is better because of it.