In the 1960’s, Dr. Gladys West, the first African American mathematician employed by Dahlgren Naval Base (along with her husband, Ira), developed the form of mathematics that led to the invention of GPS. Dr. West and Ira were true trailblazers who revolutionized technology and mathematics, and now, their story is exhibited at the Fredericksburg Area Museum.
Getting There: STEM Trailblazers Dr. Gladys and Ira West is on loan to FAM by the Dahlgren Heritage Museum, and is available for public viewing until May 2024. The exhibit’s design consists of actual figures from the West’s textbooks, combined with a screenshot of the GPS coordinates from Fredericksburg to the Dahlgren Base, which highlights the technology that Dr. West helped create.
“It’s just incredible that someone who lives in our community did this groundbreaking math that literally everyone uses,” Sarah Ernst, curator of the exhibit, said. “There’s a Civil Rights aspect to this story…it was a different role for them to be on the base, ahead of when the rest of the country had been desegregated.”
Ernst said that to be able to tell the story of a young, ambitious African American woman, who focused on math to break out of her familial tradition of farming, is captivating and inspiring. Dr. West’s role in STEM is substantial, and Ernst hopes that the Getting There exhibit will entice viewers, particularly children, to further look into STEM and the work of the Wests.
Fredericksburg Area Museum is located at 907 Princess Anne Street. Follow them on Facebook.