WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), along with U.S. Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and Frank Lucas (R- Okla.), applauded the congressional passage of a bipartisan bill they introduced, along with hundreds of their colleagues, to award Congressional Gold Medals to Katherine Johnson and Dr. Christine Darden and to posthumously award Congressional Gold Medals to Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. The bill would also award a fifth Congressional Gold Medal to honor all women who contributed to NASA during the Space Race. The bill commends these women for their contributions to NASA’s success and highlights their broader impact on society; paving the way for women, especially women of color, in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award in the U.S. It is awarded to those who have performed an achievement that has had an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized in the recipient’s field for years to come.
The Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act will honor:
The lives and careers of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden were featured in the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly. That book was adapted into the 2016 film Hidden Figures.
The bill will also honor the hundreds of other women who contributed to the success of NASA during the Space Race by serving as computers, mathematicians, and engineers.
“I am proud Congress passed this bipartisan bill to honor Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Dr. Christine Darden and all women who contributed to NASA during the Space Race with Congressional Gold Medals,” said Senator Coons. “Women played an integral role at NASA during the Space Race, but for many years their accomplishments remained hidden. With passage of this bill, we are recognizing these extraordinary women and bringing their accomplishments into the light so they can serve as an inspiration for generations of women scientists to come, particularly those of color.”
“I’m encouraged by the growing support of the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act. This Act will award one of the highest civilian honors given by Congress to Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dr. Christine Darden—four women who overcame significant hurdles to attain their educational and professional goals, serving as mathematicians, programmers, and engineers at NASA when the agency was emerging from segregation,” said Senator Murkowski. “I hope this bill will encourage young women across the nation to pursue study and careers in STEM.”
“Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Dr. Christine Darden made monumental contributions to science and our nation,” said Senator Harris. “The groundbreaking accomplishments of these four women, and all of the women who contributed to the success of NASA, helped us win the space race but remained in the dark far too long. I am proud our bill to honor these remarkable women has passed Congress. These pioneers remain a beacon for Black women across the country, both young and old."
“In the early days of the space program, women and their talents were critically important but often overlooked,” said Congresswoman Johnson, Chairwoman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. “Women were typically not permitted to serve in any visible positions or recognized publicly for their contributions. Women of color faced the additional daily indignity of racial segregation. In spite of these challenges, these women chose to apply their considerable talents to help achieve what was arguably one of the nation’s crowning technological achievements, landing the first humans on the moon. The success of the NASA space program was due in large part to their brilliance, hard work, and perseverance in the face of adversity.”
“During the Space Race, pioneering women like Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Christine Darden were working in the background, making critical contributions as they overcame racial and gender barriers,” said Congressman Lucas. “Their achievements in computing, engineering, programming, and aeronautics are all the more impressive given the challenges they faced. Awarding them the Congressional Gold Medal honors their lives and work and ensures they will continue to inspire Americans for years to come. I’m proud our bill will become law and give these individuals, as well as their female colleagues during the Space Race, the recognition they have long deserved.”
The Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act is endorsed by the Girl Scouts of the USA, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, American Physical Society, Association for Women in Science, National Association for Equal Opportunity, Society of Women Engineers, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, United Negro College Fund, National Center for Women and Information Technology, Hampton Roads Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Association for Women in Math, American Mathematical Society, National Association of Mathematicians, Mathematical Association of America, National Congress of Black Women, AnitaB.org, American Chemical Society, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Statements of support can be found here.