…warming hearts across the world.
Canadian winters can be harsh. Motorists can easily find themselves stranded on roadways, because of heavy snow and icy conditions. That’s exactly what happened to semi-truck driver Peter Douglas.
The Winnipeg driver was captured by highway cameras after getting stuck on highway 10 south of Brandon. Looking at the footage, it’s easy to see why; conditions were fierce.
He was forced to sleep in his cab overnight, hoping the weather would clear up by next morning. Instead, he woke up to find someone quite surprising knocking on his door.
Eighteen-year-old Eileen Eagle Bears was watching the traffic cams with her mother, when they spotted the stranded truck driver just over 3 miles from their home. She told herself if he was still there when she looked again in the morning, she wanted to help.
The next morning, Douglas was still stuck, so the teen got her horse, Mr. Smudge, and headed Douglas’ direction. The trip would be roughly one hour in the cold.
“There was a lot of ice on the road from the rain that we had got and drifts were bad in a few places,” Eagle Bears told CBC News.
Imagine Douglas’ surprise when he awoke to see a young woman, her horse, and a thermos filled with hot coffee outside his window. A gesture those same highway cameras caught on video.
“She had to walk that horse half a mile up that hill and half a mile down because it was so icy. Blew me away,” said Douglas to CTV News. “She said she saw me on the camera. Her and her family were watching.”
Douglas was so grateful for her kind gesture, and she promised him that if he were still stuck there later in the day, she would return with a hot meal. “He was just really glad that someone knew that he was there and that someone cared,” said Eagle Bears.
She did, in fact, return later that evening with another thermos. This time it was filled with stew and potatoes. She also brought him water.
“I thought he would be getting pretty hungry, and that’s not a good feeling, I just put on extra clothes and did what I promised I would,” Eagle Bears stated. What an amazing young woman!
Douglas was stuck there for a total of 28 hours before finally being towed and able to get safely back on the road to finish his work. He still has Eagle Bears thermoses and plans to return them on his next run through the area.
Since hearing about her heroic story, Eagle Bears has been inundated with support and appreciation from strangers. “It is overwhelming. I had gotten back and my mom had posted just a post on Facebook,” she said.
“And there was a few likes at the beginning, but we went back and there was just more and more, and it just totally blew up,” said the teen. That’s not hard to understand, because hers was an act of kindness in the cold that is warming hearts across the world.
Queen B: Bessie Coleman
Bessie Coleman broke multiple barriers when she took flight in 1921, and became the first African-American woman to earn a pilot’s license.
Miss America of Aviation: Ruth Elder
A British Earl’s daring daughter: Elsie Mackay
The queen of diamonds and air: Mabel Boll
Why remember these women?
As America stood on the brink of a Second World War, the push for aeronautical advancement grew ever greater, spurring an insatiable demand for mathematicians. Women were the solution. Ushered into the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in 1935 to shoulder the burden of number crunching, they acted as human computers, freeing the engineers of hand calculations in the decades before the digital age. Sharp and successful, the female population at Langley skyrocketed.
Many of these “computers” are finally getting their due, but conspicuously missing from this story of female achievement are the efforts contributed by courageous, African-American women. Called the West Computers, after the area to which they were relegated, they helped blaze a trail for mathematicians and engineers of all races and genders to follow.
“These women were both ordinary and they were extraordinary,” says Margot Lee Shetterly. Her new book Hidden Figures shines light on the inner details of these women’s lives and accomplishments. The book is being adapted into a movie that will receive a wide release release in January.
The West Computers were at the heart of the center’s advancements. They worked through equations that described every function of the plane, running the numbers often with no sense of the greater mission of the project. They contributed to the ever-changing design of a menagerie of wartime flying machines, making them faster, safer, more aerodynamic. Eventually their stellar work allowed some to leave the computing pool for specific projects—Christine Darden worked to advance supersonic flight, Katherine Johnson calculated the trajectories for the Mercury and Apollo missions. NASA dissolved the remaining few human computers in the 1970s as the technological advances made their roles obsolete.
The first black computers didn’t set foot at Langley until the 1940s. Though the pressing needs of war were great, racial discrimination remained strong and few jobs existed for African-Americans, regardless of gender. That was until 1941 when A. Philip Randolph, pioneering civil rights activist, proposed a march on Washington, D.C., to draw attention to the continued injustices of racial discrimination. With the threat of 100,000 people swarming to the Capitol, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802, preventing racial discrimination in hiring for federal and war-related work. This order also cleared the way for the black computers, slide rule in hand, to make their way into NACA history.
Exactly how many women computers worked at NACA (and later NASA) over the years is still unknown. One 1992 study estimated the total topped several hundred but other estimates, including Shetterly’s own intuition, says that number is in the thousands.
As a child, Shetterly knew these brilliant mathematicians as her girl scout troop leaders, Sunday school teachers, next-door neighbors and as parents of schoolmates. Her father worked at Langley as well, starting in 1964 as an engineering intern and becoming a well-respected climate scientist. “They were just part of a vibrant community of people, and everybody had their jobs,” she says. “And those were their jobs. Working at NASA Langley.”
Surrounded by the West Computers and other academics, it took decades for Shetterly to realize the magnitude of the women’s work. “It wasn’t until my husband, who was not from Hampton, was listening to my dad talk about some of these women and the things that they have done that I realized,” she says. “That way is not necessarily the norm”
The spark of curiosity ignited, Shetterly began researching these women. Unlike the male engineers, few of these women were acknowledged in academic publications or for their work on various projects. Even more problematic was that the careers of the West Computers were often more fleeting than those of the white men. Social customs of the era dictated that as soon as marriage or children arrived, these women would retire to become full-time homemakers, Shetterly explains. Many only remained at Langley for a few years.
But the more Shetterly dug, the more computers she discovered. “My investigation became more like an obsession,” she writes in the book. “I would walk any trail if it meant finding a trace of one of the computers at its end.”
She scoured telephone directories, local newspapers, employee newsletters and the NASA archives to add to her growing list of names. She also chased down stray memos, obituaries, wedding announcements and more for any hint at the richness of these women’s lives. “It was a lot of connecting the dots,” she says.
“I get emails all the time from people whose grandmothers or mothers worked there,” she says. “Just today I got an email from a woman asking if I was still searching for computers. [She] had worked at Langley from July 1951 through August 1957.”
Langley was not just a laboratory of science and engineering; “in many ways, it was a racial relations laboratory, a gender relations laboratory,” Shetterly says. The researchers came from across America. Many came from parts of the country sympathetic to the nascent Civil Rights Movement, says Shetterly, and backed the progressive ideals of expanded freedoms for black citizens and women.