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Dr. Gladys Mae Brown West was born in Sutherland, Virginia. Her mother worked in a tobacco factory and her father worked for the railroad. Her family also owned a small farm and she spent much of her childhood harvesting crops. Dr. West saw education as a tool that would set her on a path to a different life, and at school, she quickly excelled.

At Dr. West's high school, the top two students from each graduating class received full scholarships to Virginia State College (now Virginia State University), a historically black public university. Dr. West graduated as valedictorian in 1948, and was awarded the scholarship. Dr. West graduated from VSU in 1952 with a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics. She immediately became a teacher and began saving money for graduate school. She returned to the university a few years later and earned a Master’s degree in mathematics.

Shortly thereafter, Dr. West was hired to work at the Naval Proving Ground in Dahlgren, Virginia, (now the Naval Surface Warfare Center) as a computer programmer. There, she was the second Black woman ever hired and one of only four Black employees, one of whom was Ira West, the man who would later become her husband. Dr. West became a project manager for processing systems for satellite data analysis, and concurrently studied for and earned a second Master's degree, this one in public administration, from the University of Oklahoma.

In the early 1960s, Dr. West participated in an award-winning study that proved the regularity of Pluto’s motion relative to Neptune. Subsequently, she began to analyze satellite altimeter data from NASA's Geodetic Earth Orbiting program, to create models of the Earth's shape (a field known as geodesy). She became project manager for the Seasat radar altimetry project, the first satellite that could remotely sense oceans. Dr. West's work cut her team's processing time in half, and she was recommended for a commendation.

At Dahlgren, Dr. West programmed an IBM 7030 Stretch computer to deliver increasingly precise calculations for the shape of the Earth; an ellipsoid with additional undulations known as the geoid. To generate an accurate geopotential model Dr. West needed to use complex algorithms to account for variations in the gravitational, tidal, and other forces that distort Earth's shape. Dr. West's model became the basis for the Global Positioning System (GPS).

After working at Dahlgren for 42 years, Dr. West retired in 1998 and set her sights on earning her Ph.D. Despite suffering a stroke soon thereafter, she persisted in her pursuit of her doctorate. As soon as she was discharged from the hospital, Dr. West focused on rehabilitation and resumed her studies. She soon completed her dissertation and earned her Ph.D. in public administration and policy affairs in 2000 at the age of 70.

Dr. West was inducted into the United States Air Force Hall of Fame in 2018, one of the highest honors bestowed by the Air Force Space Command (AFSPC). The AFSPC press release hailed her as one of "the 'Hidden Figures' …who did computing for the US military in the era before electronic systems." Of her contributions, Dr. West has been quoted as saying "When you’re working every day, you’re not thinking, 'What impact is this going to have on the world?' You're thinking, 'I've got to get this right.'”

Dr. West was named the Virginia State University “Alumna of the Year" in 2018. In the same year, the BBC selected her as one of the “100 Women of 2018.” In 2021, she was awarded the Prince Philip Medal by the UK's Royal Academy of Engineering, their highest individual honor. The same year, she was also awarded the Webby Lifetime Achievement Award for the development of satellite geodesy models.

  • Kimberley Guillemet

― Henry Cloud

As a professional woman, a mother, a friend and community member, I can personally attest that boundary-setting is at the heart of my self-care and self-preservation regime. As much as people do not like to hear the word “no,” the reality is that sometimes, the answer is simply “no.”


No chaser. No explanation. No justification. Just, “no.”

I posit that a well-timed “no” is appropriate and effective in a variety of circumstances and relationships.

Parents must become adept at utilizing the word “no" as it pertains to their children. Children may posture as though they want their parents to say “yes” to their every command, but in truth, they crave boundaries. In addition, despite their often brazen approach, many of them are fearful that their parents might actually say “yes” to some of their more outlandish requests. Children need parents who are willing to stand for what is right and draw lines in the sand when a request or proposition violates set boundaries or values. I believe that the lack of boundaries in our society has significantly contributed to the deterioration of mental health observed among children and young people over the past three years. At the onset of the pandemic, many parents and educators were so focused on appeasing children and keeping the peace, that many of them completely abandoned boundaries and rules. It is well-established in the child development field that children need rules and boundaries to feel safe and that includes hearing the adults in their lives sometimes tell them “no.”

Working professionals need to learn the art of utilizing the word “no” in the workplace as well. Employers and companies are focused on their bottom line which has to do with productivity and efficiency. They are not in the business of ensuring the well-being of their employees. As a result, it is imperative that each individual is intentional about setting the boundaries needed to maintain their own work-life balance. That will sometimes mean declining a new project or assignment, especially in situations where we can sense that one additional responsibility will tip us over into unwellness.

We must also learn to set boundaries with our loved ones and friends. It’s never easy to tell someone who wants to spend time with us socially or who enjoys the pleasure of our company that we are not available. However, if acquiescing to the request would disrupt or derail sacred time that we have set aside for ourselves for our self-care or mindfulness practice, or even conflicts with a set obligation such as church, or a child’s soccer game, which may seem mundane to others, but is really important to us, we should feel free to decline without hesitation or guilt.

Sometimes saying “no” will be unpopular. And yes, sometimes people will engage in judgment and unfounded conjecture because they may feel rejected. However, “no'' is just sometimes imperative. Not only is answering every request in the affirmative unhealthy and not sustainable, it is grounded in “people pleasing,” a practice that never ends well for the people pleaser. We know that the same people who are making the demands of us to relentlessly give of ourselves until we have nothing left will be nowhere to be found when we are internally gutted, emotionally rattled, and in some cases, physically incapacitated.

We must say “no” for the sake of our own well-being, and, often, for that of others.

The same people who today are demanding a “yes,” will respect you more tomorrow after you have said “no.” Moreover, they will benefit from a better, more fruitful relationship with a healthier, happier, more rested and grounded you.

As it is said, “‘No’ is a complete sentence.”

Ann Lowe was born in rural Clayton, Alabama in 1898 to Jane and Jack Lowe. Lowe's interest in fashion, sewing and designing came from her mother Janey and grandmother Georgia, both of whom were skilled dressmakers who sewed for wealthy white families in the state. They taught Lowe to sew as early as age five. By the time Lowe was six, she had developed a fondness for using scraps of fabric to make small decorative flowers patterned after the flowers she saw in the family’s garden. This childhood pastime would later become the signature feature on many of her dresses and gowns. By age 10, she made her own dress patterns.

Lowe's mother died unexpectedly when Lowe was 16 years old. At the time, her mother was working on four dresses for a New Year’s Eve ball, at least one of which belonged to the first lady of Alabama. Lowe took over the project, and her successful completion of the gowns helped establish her as a skilled dressmaker in the state.

In 1916, a chance encounter in a department store with influential Tampa socialite Josephine Edwards Lee changed Lowe’s life. Mrs. Lee observed that Lowe’s outfit was fashionable and exceptionally well-made. Lowe informed her that she made the ensemble herself, which prompted Lee to invite Lowe to Florida to make the bridal gowns and trousseau for her twin daughters as their live-in dressmaker. After discussing the offer with her husband, who wanted her to remain a housewife, Lowe accepted the offer and moved with her son to the Lee family estate at Lake Thonotosassa in Tampa. She later described the opportunity as “a chance to make all the lovely gowns I’d always dreamed of.” In Tampa, she developed a list of loyal clients and supporters.

While reading a fashion magazine, Lowe, who was eager to enhance her skills, learned about the S.T. Taylor School of Design in New York City. She applied for admission and was accepted. When she arrived at the Design School, the school’s director initially turned her away because of her ethnicity. Based on her portfolio, he had assumed she was white. She refused to leave. He eventually allowed her to attend the school, but segregated her in a separate classroom because her classmates refused to be in the same space with an African American. Lowe’s design abilities were far superior to those of her classmates, and her creations were used as models of exceptional work for the other students. Due to Lowe’s advanced skill and ability, she successfully completed the program in half the required time.

The 1950s marked a significant turning point in Lowe’s life and career. She opened Ann Lowe Inc. which was located at 667 Madison Avenue. Lowe was the first African American to own a couture salon on this fashionable street. Lowe’s fairytale-like gowns appeared in Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines. She earned key commissions and obtained greater geographical exposure from high-end luxury department stores such as Montaldo’s, Neiman Marcus, and I. Magnin.

Lowe was known for being highly selective in choosing her clientele. She later described herself as "an awful snob,” adding: “I love my clothes and I'm particular about who wears them. I am not interested in sewing for cafe society or social climbers. I do not cater to Mary and Sue. I sew for the families of the Social Register.”

Lowe’s most historically significant commission was the bridal gown and bridal party dresses for the 1953 wedding of Jacqueline Bouvier and then-Senator John F. Kennedy, who would become president of the United States in 1961. Lowe was chosen by the bride’s mother, Janet Auchincloss, with whom she had a long-standing relationship, as Lowe had created her wedding gown. Lowe also designed the debut gowns of Jacqueline Bouvier, her sister Caroline Lee Bouvier, and their step-sister Nina Auchincloss, which appeared in Vogue.

About 10 days before the Bouvier-Kennedy wedding, a ruptured pipe in Lowe’s building destroyed the wedding gown and 10 of the 15 bridesmaid’s dresses. Lowe and her team of seamstresses recreated the dresses in under a week, but ultimately, she sustained a $2,200 loss in income. She never reported the loss to the Kennedy family. While the wedding was a highly publicized event, Lowe did not receive public credit for her work until after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Despite being a celebrated designer of one-of-a-kind dresses for the powerful and wealthy, many clients did not pay her for the costs of the labor and materials, or they asked her for prices that they knew were substantially below what they would have paid a white designer. Those circumstances left Lowe with a minimum amount of funds after paying her staff. In 1962, the U.S. Department of Revenue closed Lowe’s New York shop due to $12,800 owed in back taxes. The debts were later paid by an anonymous donor, who Lowe believed to be Jacqueline Kennedy.

Between 1968 and 1972, Lowe opened and operated the Ann Lowe Originals shop on Madison Avenue until her retirement. At that time, she moved to Queens to live with Ruth Alexander, who formerly worked in Lowe’s salon and whom she identified as her adopted daughter. On February 25, 1981, she passed away in Queens, New York.

A collection of five of Ann Lowe's designs are held at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Three are on display at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. Several others were included in an exhibition on Black fashion at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan in December 2016. From September 2023 through January 2024, the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library will exhibit a collection of Ann Lowe's works from the 1920s-1960s.

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