Glasses, not skirts

Women’s Campaign Fund

Insights from Leaders
3 min readFeb 28, 2021


Katherine Johnson — 1918 -2020

On Monday, Katherine Johnson will arrive at the International Space Station (ISS). Quite a feat for a woman who died in February 2020.

Johnson, the African-American mathematician whose contributions were featured in the Oscar-nominated film “Hidden Figures,” will reach the station courtesy of a Northrop Grumman Cygnus capsule bearing her name. The S.S. Katherine Johnson carries roughly four tons of cargo to the ISS.

“It’s our tradition to name each Cygnus after an individual who’s played a pivotal role in human spaceflight,” said Frank DeMauro, a Northrop Grumman vice president, according to “Mrs. Johnson was selected for her handwritten calculations that helped launch the first Americans into space, as well as her accomplishments in breaking glass ceiling after glass ceiling as a Black woman.”

Johnson became a legend within the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) — and its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics — for her work in galvanizing the nascent space program and being one of the go-to people to solve thorny problems. Among her most iconic efforts: doing calculations by hand that contributed to NASA’s February 20, 1962, mission — making John Glenn the first American to orbit the globe.

She was part of a team of 20 African-American female mathematicians dubbed the “human computers” for the key roles — and brains — behind one of the most outstanding achievements in U.S. history. They would compute over 10,000 calculations by cosine, square root, and analytic geometry on any given day.

Once, when Johnson was minimized for being hired only because she was a woman, she curtly told the miscreant, “yes, they let women do some things at NASA. And it’s not because we wear skirts. It’s because we wear glasses. Have a good day.”

As International Woman’s Day approaches on March 8, it is a perfect time to remember and remind how Johnson and others give credibility to what NASA later touted: to meet the women you don’t know, behind the mission you do.

And it is not just out of this world where the women we do not know are working with men and doing the things that need to be done.

Each career field is its own story, and many job titles remain filled predominantly by one gender. Many industries that used to be mostly male have gradually transformed over decades, as women’s roles began to rise several generations ago. But to reach #5050x2028, roughly half women and half men in elected offices nationwide, The Women’s Campaign Fund recognizes this transformation has to be done with the same resolve and focus as Johnson, her colleagues — male and female of all races — brought to NASA.

It took eight years from President Kennedy’s speech about landing on the moon until Apollo 11 did just that. We have seven years to 2028. We don’t have to ask for the moon; just for the opportunity for all of us to be stars.

Women’s Campaign Fund #5050x2028

©2021 Women’s Campaign Fund


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