WASHINGTON, D.C. — As we celebrate the successful Apollo 11 mission to the moon, the National Organization of Women would like to recognize Frances “Poppy” Northcutt for her historic contributions to America’s space mission, to gender equality and to legal advocacy for women.
Poppy Northcutt was the first woman to work in an operational support role in the Mission Control Center in Houston during the Apollo program. When she joined NASA directly after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, she was given the title of “computress.”
“What a weird title this is,” she told TIME magazine, she remembered thinking: “Not only do they think I’m a computer, but they think I’m a gendered computer.”
This month, Americans are learning about Poppy and her colleagues at NASA from the new PBS documentary “Chasing the Moon.” As she progressed in her career, she began to ask more questions and push back on more of the gender discrimination and inequity she saw every day. After the Apollo program ended, the mayor of Houston, Texas made her the city’s first Women’s Advocate. She negotiated an agreement with the Houston Police Department enabling women to become police officers and got the Fire Department to agree to let women be firefighters.
She led an important pay equity study that examined the entire Houston municipal payroll. She even counted the number of women’s versus men’s bathrooms throughout all of Houston, helping to bring this number into balance.
After that, she once again reached for the stars by going to law school, becoming a prosecutor and then a criminal defense attorney, working on domestic violence and reproductive rights cases throughout her career.
Poppy Northcutt has been blazing a trail as a NOW activist since her service on NOW’s national Board of Directors in the 1970s, as president of Houston NOW and today, president of Texas NOW.
NOW honors Poppy Northcutt for her lifelong contributions to women’s history, and for the way she has inspired generations of women whose own careers are building on what Poppy Northcutt began.