Frances “Poppy” Northcutt’s career includes groundbreaking achievements as an engineer, as a women’s rights advocate, and as an attorney. Born in Many, Louisiana, and raised in Luling and Dayton, Texas, Poppy earned a degree in mathematics at the University of Texas. In 1965, she began working for the Apollo program at NASA, initially as a computress and then as a return-to-earth specialist. During the Apollo 8 mission, she became the first woman to work in NASA’s Mission Control Center. She also participated in the Apollo 11 and Apollo 13 missions and was a member of the mission operations team that received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for rescuing Apollo 13.
As one of few women in engineering, Poppy became increasingly involved in the women’s liberation movement. She helped plan events with the National Organization for Women, a grassroots women’s rights group. Poppy is currently President of Houston Area NOW and Texas NOW. In the 1970s, she served on NOW’s national board of directors and was founding chair of the Harris County Women’s Political Caucus, the first Women’s Advocate for the City of Houston, and a special conference consultant for the National Women’s Conference.
In 1984, Poppy earned a law degree and clerked for a federal appellate judge. She then prosecuted and later defended criminal cases. She was the first felony prosecutor in the Domestic Violence Unit at the Harris County DA’s Office. In her private practice, she focused on criminal trial and appellate work. Now semi-retired, she is a referral lawyer for Jane’s Due Process, a non-profit providing legal assistance to pregnant teenagers.