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Updated: History Marker Unveiling

On Sept. 22, 2023, the North Carolina Historical Highway Marker program unveiled a new historic marker honoring women mathematicians who helped the United States reach the moon during the Space Race. This ceremony was held at the North Carolina Natural Sciences Museum in downtown Raleigh. Eighteen Meredith alumnae were not specifically included or honored on the marker itself, but are listed as being a part of NC women involved in helping the United States throughout the 1930s-1970s.

In spring of 2020, Meredith students in a Public History course conducted research in order to uncover female North Carolinians involvement in the Cold-War era space race. The course was taught by Dr. Daniel Fountain, Professor of History at Meredith. The research of these students was combined into a collective formal marker proposal. Dr. Fountain also had an article appear in the Meredith magazine about the research.

Dr. Fountain stated that the idea for the research began after “a simple question” from Meredith geoscience professor Dr. Stutz. Stutz had asked if “Meredith students had worked as computers for NASA.” Fountain did “a little digging into [some] newspapers and came up with several names.” This process led him to write several articles, one for Meredith Magazine and another for the Tarheel Junior Historian, to share his findings.

While the accomplishments of women involved in the space race were honored in the 2016 film “Hidden Figures”, the film focused on three African-American women in Hampton, Virginia. The reality is that there were many more working in STEM fields for the space race. In a press release from Aug. 31, 2023, Melyssa Allen, Meredith’s news director, stated that the “Meredith graduates served as [human] 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.”

After the ceremony, a panel discussed the accomplishments of the NC women celebrated by the marker. This panel included Meredith Associate Professor of History, Dr. Angela Robbins. Robbins is also the chair for the Meredith department of History, Political Science, and International Studies.

According to Fountain, he was “confident the state would want to recognize the women who performed this important work, so [he] included the requirement to draw up a marker proposal for each of the research teams.” However, the process remained challenging with the COVID-19 pandemic raging. Fountain explained, “COVID triggered library and campus shutdowns.” Most of the work was completed online without the benefit of traditional archival research access. Dr. Fountain added that the pandemic also limited the full identification of Meredith alumnae, as Fountain’s team “didn’t know exactly how many (names) there would be”. Fountain also replied that he wasn’t “convinced that [they] found them all given the limitations [they] faced because of COVID shutdowns.”

Fountain “does not plan on doing more of the project” alone, but he still remains interested in identifying the NC women involved in an often-forgotten part of history. He stated, “There is a lot about these women, their work, and their lives after Meredith that [the community] don't fully know.”

Meredith College’s slogan today is “Going Strong.” While the “strong” usage began in July 2014, the strength of students and alumnae continues to be historically understood and recognized by the general public.

By Kat Whetstone, Contributing Writer



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