Pioneering the Stars: Mary Golda Ross and the Legacy of Indigenous Women in Aerospace

Saurav Singh

Image Courtesy: Google Doodle

Mary Golda Ross (August 9, 1908 – April 29, 2008) achieved historic milestones as the first known Native American female engineer and the inaugural female engineer in Lockheed’s history. Notably, she was among the esteemed founding engineers of the renowned and secretive Skunk Works project at Lockheed Corporation. Her tenure at Lockheed spanned from 1942 until her retirement in 1973, during which she left an indelible mark through her contributions to aerospace design, including the notable Agena Rocket program. Additionally, she was a visionary in proposing design concepts for interplanetary space travel, crewed and uncrewed Earth-orbiting flights, and early studies on orbiting satellites for both defense and civilian purposes.

In recognition of her pioneering accomplishments, Mary Golda Ross was honored by the U.S. Mint, appearing on the 2019 Native American $1 Coin as a celebration of Native Americans’ contributions to the space program.

Life and Career

Mary G. Ross was born in Park Hill, Oklahoma, in a small town. She was the second of five children, born to William Wallace Ross Jr. and Mary Henrietta Moore Ross. As the great-granddaughter of the Cherokee Chief John Ross, her heritage held significant importance. Displaying remarkable talent from a young age, she was sent to live with her grandparents in Tahlequah, the capital of the Cherokee Nation, to attend primary and secondary school.

At the age of 16, Ross enrolled at Northeastern State Teachers’ College in Tahlequah, where she pursued a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. Remarkably, she completed her degree at the young age of 20 in 1928. Subsequently, she continued her academic journey, obtaining her master’s degree from Colorado State Teachers College in Greeley in 1938, demonstrating her passion for astronomy by taking every available astronomy class.

Before her impressive career at Lockheed, Ross taught mathematics and science in rural Oklahoma schools, demonstrating her dedication to education during challenging times, particularly the Great Depression. However, it was her groundbreaking work as an engineer at Lockheed that solidified her legacy as a pioneering figure in aerospace and space exploration.

Awards and Recognition

Throughout her illustrious career, Mary Golda Ross garnered numerous accolades and acknowledgments for her groundbreaking achievements. Some of the notable awards and recognitions she received include inductions into the Silicon Valley Engineering Council’s Hall of Fame in 1992, the title of Peninsula Woman of the Year by the women’s communications society Theta Sigma Phi, and achievement awards from both the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the Council of Energy Resource Tribes. She was also honored with the San Francisco Examiner’s Award for Woman of Distinction in 1961, the Woman of Achievement Award from the California State Federation of Business and Professional Clubs in the same year, and outstanding alumna awards from her first two alma maters.

On 9 August 2018, a Google Doodle was created to celebrate Mary Golda Ross’s 107th Birthday.

Tags: , , , ,