Dorothy Weinshank Gillett


Janet Wagner submitted this post about her grandmother, Dorothy Gillett:

My grandmother (no longer with us) got her BS in Astronomy from Wellesley in 1919, and had a long distinguished career first working on a family business which set up the first radio networks across the country, and ended up working for Lockheed for many years doing orbital calculations on the Mercury and Apollo projects.  One of her titles when she worked for Lockheed was “Head Computer” so I always tell people I came by mathematical talent (such as it is, but I do have a PhD in OR from MIT) because “my grandmother was a computer”.

If you ever travel on the NJ Turnpike, and see all those radio towers in the Meadowlands (salt flats outside Newark) it’s because MY grandparents discovered that radio waves travel much better/farther in waterlogged sands then they do when broadcast off high buildings.  So people think of that RKO image of radio waves coming off the Empire State Building, but when they did that they couldn’t get radio waves to GO far enough to join them up into networks until my grandparents figured the salt flats business out.  So that’s how she started her career, and she ended it working on space projects.  (And raised 4 kids somewhere in there.)

The mathematical talent skipped a generation (my mother was a psychologist), but I got it and so did my daughters (1st of which is a Civil Engineer).  But I don’t have grandchildren yet (and it’s still a little early).

But MY grandma understood STEM!  Thank you for reminding me of that happy memory today.    The first picture is of my Grandmother as a young matron, probably taken in the late 20’s or early 30’s.  The other is from 1959, reading to … ME.


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1 Response to Dorothy Weinshank Gillett

  1. BMGM says:

    “Human computers” were mainly women, as a fellow I met at an MIT alumni event explained to me. They simply could not find unemployed men so talented at math. They were lucky that sexism gave them access to this pool of talent, but he says times are different and women have other choices now.

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