“Pearl Young was indeed a remarkable woman. She was not only the first female professional employee of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), she was also a teacher, journalist, lecturer, author and world traveler.” – W. Hewitt Phillips
Pearl Young in the Instrument Research Laboratory at what is now NASA Langley Research Center
In 1922, Pearl I. Young (1895-1968) became the first woman hired as a technical employee, a physicist, of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the agency that was the predecessor to NASA. The contributions she made led the way for professional women at Langley Research Center.
Pearl Young grew up in North Dakota and left home at age 11 to work as a domestic in order to attend high school. She also worked her way through college, graduating in 1919 from the University of North Dakota (UND) as a Phi Beta Kappa with a triple major in physics, mathematics, and chemistry. Following graduation, Young was offered a faculty position in the UND Department of Physics, where she taught for two years. In 1922 she accepted an appointment at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory of the NACA (now NASA Langley Research Center) in Hampton, VA. She became the first professional woman employee at Langley and the second female physicist working for the federal government.
In 1929, Young was appointed as Langley’s first ever Chief Technical Editor. Perhaps her most lasting contribution to the NACA and NASA was setting up an editorial office and writing the “Style Manual for Engineering Authors”, a manual that set the format for reports on research conducted at Langley and was subsequently adopted by all of the NACA Centers.
Young was also a part-time reporter and feature editor for the regional newspaper, earning a front-page by-line for her interview of Eleanor Roosevelt. Young did not only report on noteworthy people and events. She experienced adventure firsthand, paying $800 for round trip ticket No. 1 on the first flight of the airship Hindenburg in 1936. She was one of the 50 passengers on the airship’s first flight, about a year before it crashed in flames into New Jersey.
In 1943, Pearl Young left Langley for the brand-new NACA Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory (now NASA Glenn Research Center) in Cleveland, OH, where she trained the lab’s new technical editing staff. At the end of World War II, Young resigned her post as chief technical editor of the NACA and returned to teaching, accepting a position as Assistant Professor of Physics at Pennsylvania State College (now Penn State University). In 1957 she returned to Lewis Laboratory, where she conducted specialized bibliographical work until her retirement from NASA in 1961.