The 1930’s were not, as one can imagine, rife with social progression in the way of women’s rights.
While the Great Depression made it difficult for anyone to become gainfully employed, it made it even harder for women to work.
In 1932, the Federal Economy Act prohibited more than one family member from being employed by the government, making it nearly impossible for married women to work.
Of the 25.4 percent of women who reported working in the 1940 census, 50 percent worked in clerical or domestic work, with only 10 percent in a professional field, according to an article from U.S. History in Context.
So what is a woman to do when she is being raised in a society that overwhelmingly thinks women should just stay home?
If that woman is Margaret Hamilton, she gets a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at Earlham College, and works post-grad at MIT on a project that would become the first air defense system for the United States.
Margaret Hamilton was born in 1936, in a small town in Indiana. Her work would revolutionize computing in science, send men to the moon and change computer programming forever.
Hamilton did this all before she turned 35.
She worked on the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment Air Defense System or SAGE at MIT in the 1950’s.
The SAGE software was originally used to detect weather patterns and later was used as a defense system during the Cold War.
During her time working on SAGE, Hamilton was given a computer program that no one had ever successfully run — as a sort of hazing when she was new to the team — she told the audience during a 2001 Q&A at Caltech University
The original programmer’s notes were all in Latin and Greek, and this code was given to every newcomer to the team. Hamilton was the first to get it to run.
Hamilton’s work on SAGE is what lead to her becoming the lead developer for the launching software on the Apollo Mission.
Once she began working on the Apollo mission, Hamilton developed a code that, in her words, “was smart enough to recognize that it was being asked to perform more tasks than it should be performing.”
The program would then trigger an alarm that alerted the astronauts to this issue, and then prioritize tasks in order to keep the craft from crashing , which would allow for a successful landing.
Her work was groundbreaking in the realm of software, and Hamilton was awarded the NASA Exceptional Space Act Award for this program.
The software that she developed for the Apollo Mission was some of the most reliable software of the time and paved the way for software that more reliably prioritized tasks, according to the NASA Technologist who nominated her for the award.
Hamilton was a software engineer at a time when software engineering was considered an inferior form of engineering and a lesser science. At the time, engineering wasn’t considered a science at all.
In November of 2016, Hamilton was recognized for her work on the Apollo mission and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for her work on the Apollo Mission.
When people remember the Apollo Mission, they tend to just remember the moon landing itself and not the work that went into it, and even fewer know that the software developed for the mission was developed by a woman who paved the way for modern science.