He encouraged Virginia to study math and physics and made her first slide rule with her when she was 9. As a military family, they moved frequently, living in Panama, Oklahoma and Bermuda, among other places. Virginia attended five different high schools before graduating as the salutatorian of Germantown High School in Philadelphia.
Her school guidance counselor suggested that she become a librarian, advice that she ignored. Instead she applied to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she was one of about a dozen women in her entering class.
A day after graduating, in 1947, she married Lawrence Norwood, a graduate student who had been her calculus instructor during her third semester. They had three children: Naomi, David and Peter. The marriage ended in divorce, and Ms. Norwood married Maurice Schaeffer, who died in 2010. She is survived by Naomi and Peter; a sister, Barbara; five grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
After graduating, Ms. Norwood ran into the prejudices then permeating society, according to the MIT and NASA articles. When interviewing at Sikorsky Aircraft in Connecticut, she asked for a salary commensurate with the lowest rank in the civil service, but was told the company would never pay a woman that much.
She withdrew her application at a food lab after she was asked to promise not to get pregnant.
She had three interviews at Remington, the gun manufacturer, in which she outlined how a staff mathematician could improve the company’s operations. The hiring manager called to say that her idea was brilliant, but that the company was going to hire a man instead.
Desperate, she took a job selling women’s blouses at a department store in New Haven, Conn.
Finally she and her husband were hired by the U.S. Army Signal Corps Laboratories in Fort Monmouth, N.J. She worked in the weather radar division, where she designed a radar reflector for weather balloons that could detect previously untraceable winds at 100,000 feet.
She later moved to an antenna group, working on antennas that used microwaves; one of her designs remains classified. In 1953, she and her husband moved to California, where she went to work for Sylvania Electronic Defense Labs in Mountain View. She set up the company’s first antenna lab.