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The new Human Computers historical marker plaque outside of the science museum in Raleigh.

New Historical Marker Recognizes Work of Human Computers

By Melyssa Allen

New Historical Marker Recognizes Work of Human Computers

By Melyssa Allen

A new historical marker in downtown Raleigh commemorating the women who worked as “human computers” for the U.S. space program and military was unveiled on September 22 at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

Meredith College alumnae are among the women whose work is recognized with this new marker.

The marker is the result of efforts by students in Meredith’s Spring 2020 Public History course who conducted research to identify Meredith alumnae and other North Carolinians who worked in these fields. The students completed a formal proposal for these contributions to be recognized on a state highway historical marker. Public History courses are taught by Professor of History Dan Fountain.

The world globe in front of the Natural Sciences museum in Raleigh, where the new historical marker is.
Many women from North Carolina, including more than a dozen Meredith College alumnae, served as “human computers” in support of the nation’s space program and national defense during World War II and the Cold War.

On the day of the unveiling, Meredith Associate Professor of History Angela Robbins, chair of the Department of History, Political Science, and International Studies, participated in a panel discussion about the impact of these women. She was joined by UNC Greensboro Archivist Erin Lawrimore, Museum of Natural Sciences staff member Rachel Smith, NC Highway Historical Marker Program Director Leslie Leonard, and Reid Wilson, secretary of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. 

Meredith graduates served as computers, aerospace technologists, and computer programmers for NACA, NASA, the Naval Weapons Laboratory, and the Aeronautical Testing Laboratory at Langley and Dahlgren Airfields in Virginia as well as at the US Navy Surface Warfare Center at Panama City, Florida.

The following alumnae have been identified by Meredith researchers as having worked as computers or in related fields from the 1940s through the early 1960s:

Betty Lou Anderson, ’42; Langley
Rowena Daniel Becker, ’42; assistant computer, Langley
Margaret Leach Block, ’51; NACA 1951-56
Geraldine “Jerry” Couch, ’43; Langley
Jane Kathleen Simmons Edwards, ’61; Naval Weapons Laboratory, Dahlgren, VA
Christina Davis Forte, ’67; Research Triangle Institute & Langley Research Center
Elizabeth Garner, ’42; assistant computer, Langley
Faye Autry Jackson, ’65; US Navy Surface Warfare Center, Panama City, FL
Linda Motsinger Keiner, ’62; Mathematician Naval Weapons Laboratory, Dahlgren, VA
Janice Long, ’62; Aerospace Technologist, Langley
Jean Parrish Mason, ’52; computer, NACA
Mary Matthews, ’44; accountant, Langley
Mary Catherine Cole Metters, ’57; National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics
Wilma Owens, ’57; Aeronautical Testing Laboratory, Langley
Janet Puckett, ’62; Aerospace Technologist, Langley
Ann Quay, ’57; Aeronautical Testing Laboratory, Langley
Harriette Ann Seals, ’59; mathematician, Langley
Mary Ann Canady Simms, ’42; assistant computer, Langley

Historical information included in this article was originally published in “Meredith’s Own Hidden Figures,” by Professor of History Dan Fountain, which ran in the Spring 2020 issue of Meredith Magazine.

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