Jackson graduated with bachelor's degrees in mathematics and physical science from Hampton University, a historically Black university, in 1942. She was a mathematician and aerospace engineer who started her NASA career in the segregated West Area Computing Unit of the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. She was recruited by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in April 1951. NACA was succeeded by NASA in 1958, where she worked until her retirement in 1985.
She worked along with two other history-making Black mathematicians, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan, during the space race. The women's stories were told in Margot Lee Shetterly's 2016 nonfiction book "Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race." It was also adapted into a motion picture that same year. Jackson was portrayed by Janelle Monáe in the film.
Jackson died in 2005 at the age of 83. In 2019, President Donald Trump signed the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act, which posthumously honored Jackson. It also honored Johnson, Vaughan and Christine Darden, who joined NASA’s pool of “human computers” in 1967.
“We are honored that NASA continues to celebrate the legacy of our mother and grandmother Mary W. Jackson,” Carolyn Lewis, Jackson’s daughter, said in a statement. “She was a scientist, humanitarian, wife, mother, and trailblazer who paved the way for thousands of others to succeed, not only at NASA, but throughout this nation.”