When I was growing up, I wanted to be a scientist. I even got a chemistry set for Christmas. And my favorite author was Jules Verne. By the time I started college, however, science had become a hobby, not a career.
I was captivated by Verne’s description of a ship that could go under water. Understandably, I married a man who served on a nuclear submarine. While we were stationed at the sub base, I visited several subs, including the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered submarine. I even went on a dependents’ cruise and had lunch under Long Island Sound.
Only recently were women assigned to submarine duty. This is ironic because of the work of Ruth Montague, the Navy’s “Hidden Figure” ship designer.
Like the women of the movie, this Afro-American woman faced extreme racism and sexism; yet, she prevailed and revolutionized the way the Navy designed ships and submarines using a computer program she developed in the early 1970s.
“It would have normally taken two years to produce a rough design of a ship on paper, but during the heat of the Vietnam War Ms. Montague was given one month to design the specifications for a frigate. She did it in 18 hours and 26 minutes.” (Katharine Q. Seelye, New York Times 10/18/2018)
At the height of her career, she was briefing the Joint Chiefs of Staff every month and teaching at the United States Naval Academy. Many of her ship designs are still in use. Ms. Montague died recently and although she was decorated by the Navy, she was not recognized nationally until the publication in 2016 of Hidden Figures.
Perhaps if I had known of her and the female “computers” who helped NASA launch men into space, science would have seemed a brighter path for me.