Mary Golda Ross

(Redirected from Mary G. Ross)

Mary Golda Ross (August 9, 1908 – April 29, 2008) was the first known Native American female engineer,[1] and the first female engineer in the history of Lockheed.[2] She was one of the 40 founding engineers of the renowned and highly secretive Skunk Works project at Lockheed Corporation. She worked at Lockheed from 1942 until her retirement in 1973, where she was best remembered for her work on aerospace design – including the Agena Rocket program – as well as numerous "design concepts for interplanetary space travel, crewed and uncrewed Earth-orbiting flights, the earliest studies of orbiting satellites for both defense and civilian purposes."[1] In 2018, she was chosen to be depicted on the 2019 Native American $1 Coin by the U.S. Mint celebrating Native Americans in the space program.[3]

Mary Golda Ross
Photo of Mary Golda Ross.jpg
Born(1908-08-09)August 9, 1908
Park Hill, Oklahoma, United States
DiedApril 29, 2008(2008-04-29) (aged 99)
Los Altos, California, United States
Resting placeRoss Cemetery, Park Hill, Oklahoma, United States
35°51′04″N 94°56′52″W / 35.851221°N 94.947831°W / 35.851221; -94.947831
NationalityCherokee Nation
EducationNortheastern State Teachers' College, bachelor's degree in mathematics, 1928, and Colorado State Teachers College in Greeley, master's degree in mathematics, 1938
RelativesGreat-grandfather: John Ross
Engineering career
Employer(s)Lockheed Corporation, 1942; joined their Advanced Development Program (Skunk Works), 1952.
ProjectsFirst Native American female engineer.
Significant design"Preliminary design concepts for interplanetary space travel, crewed and uncrewed earth-orbiting flights, the earliest studies of orbiting satellites for both defense and civilian purposes."[1]
AwardsSilicon Valley Engineering Council’s Hall of Fame, 1992, Fellow and life member of the Society of Women Engineers, and others

Early life and educationEdit

Mary G. Ross was born in the small town of Park Hill, Oklahoma, the second of five children of William Wallace Ross Jr and Mary Henrietta Moore Ross.[4] She was the great-granddaughter of the Cherokee Chief John Ross. A talented child, she was sent to live with her grandparents in the Cherokee Nation capital of Tahlequah to attend primary and secondary school.[5]

When she was 16, Ross enrolled in Northeastern State Teachers' College in Tahlequah. She earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1928, at age 20.[6]

She received her master's degree from the Colorado State Teachers College in Greeley in 1938,[7] taking "every astronomy class they had."[8]


Ross taught math and science in rural Oklahoma schools for nine years, mostly during the Great Depression.

At age 28, she took the civil service examination to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in Washington, D.C., as a statistical clerk.[4] In 1937, she was reassigned as an advisor to girls at the Santa Fe Indian School, an American Indian boarding school in Santa Fe, New Mexico.[7][8] In August 1938 she completed requirements for her master's degree from Colorado State College of Education at Greeley; she had attended classes in summers while she was a teacher. She took astronomy classes there in addition to reading extensively in her chosen field of mathematics.[4]

She moved to California in 1941 to seek work after the US joined World War II, on the advice of her father.[7]

Ross was hired as a mathematician by Lockheed in 1942. While there she began working on the effects of pressure on the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. The P-38 was one of the fastest airplanes designed at the time: it was the first military airplane to fly faster than 400 mph (640 km/h) in level flight.[9][10] Ross helped to solve numerous design issues involved with high speed flight and issues of aeroelasticity. Although Ross preferred working on topics surrounding interplanetary spaceflight, she later said that "If I had mentioned it in 1942, my credibility would have been questioned."[11]

"Often at night there were four of us working until 11 p.m.," she recalled later. "I was the pencil pusher, doing a lot of research. My state of the art tools were a slide rule and a Friden computer."[6]

After the war, Lockheed sent her to UCLA for a professional certification in engineering. "She studied mathematics for modern engineering, aeronautics and missile and celestial mechanics."[8] It was unusual for a company that hired a woman for work during the war to keep that woman once the war ended; "Gold" Ross continued to work for Lockheed.[4]

In 1952, she joined Lockheed's Advanced Development Program at the then-secret Skunk Works, where she worked on "preliminary design concepts for interplanetary space travel, crewed and uncrewed earth-orbiting flights, the earliest studies of orbiting satellites for both defense and civilian purposes."[1] She worked on the Agena rocket project, and on preliminary design concepts for flyby missions to Venus and Mars.[12][13]

Most of the theories and papers that emerged from the group, including those by Ross, are still classified. As she told her alma mater's newspaper in the 1990s, "We were taking the theoretical and making it real." One of Ross' seminal roles was as one of the authors of the NASA Planetary Flight Handbook Vol. III,[14] about space travel to Mars and Venus ...[8]

"She was just one of the guys," said Norbert Hill, who met Ross when he was executive director of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. "She was as smart as the rest of them and she held her own."[8]

In 1958, she appeared on the television show What's My Line?. It took some time for the contestants to guess that she was the person who "Designs Rocket Missiles and Satellites (Lockheed Aircraft)."[15][16]

Ross became a senior advanced systems staff engineer by the late 1960s, working on the Polaris reentry vehicle, Poseidon and Trident missiles.[17][18]

Later lifeEdit

"Mary G. Ross: Scientist, Engineer, Cherokee-American" in honor of Mary G. Ross, created by Lawrence Kinney, Buffalo State College.

After retiring in 1973, Ross lived in Los Altos, California,[12] and worked to recruit young women and Native American youth into engineering careers. Since the 1950s, she had been a member of the Society of Women Engineers. She also supported the American Indians in Science and Engineering Society (AISES) and the Council of Energy Resource Tribes.[8]

At age 96, wearing her "first traditional Cherokee dress" of green calico, made by her niece, she participated in the opening ceremonies of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.[8] Upon her death in 2008, she left a $400,000 endowment to that museum.[6][19]

Awards and recognitionEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d Williams, Jasmin K. (March 21, 2013). "Mary Golda Ross: The first Native American female engineer". Amsterdam News. New York. Archived from the original on April 10, 2013. Retrieved March 29, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c "Hall of Fame: Mary G. Ross". Silicon Valley Engineering Council. Retrieved August 13, 2018.
  3. ^ "United States Mint Unveils Design for 2019 Native American $1 Coin Reverse". December 10, 2018. Archived from the original on December 16, 2018. Retrieved December 16, 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d Agnew, Brad (March 20, 2016). "'Golda' Ross left teaching to support war effort". Tahlequah Daily Press. Oklahoma. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  5. ^ Zierdt-Warshaw, Linda; Winkler, Alan; Bernstein, Leonard (2000). American women in technology : an encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1576070727. OCLC 48139041.
  6. ^ a b c Briggs, Kara (December 24, 2008). "Cherokee rocket scientist leaves heavenly gift". Cherokee Phoenix. NMAI Newservice.
  7. ^ a b c "Celebrating the First Native American Female Engineer". Indian Country Today Media Network. March 26, 2013. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Briggs, Kara (October 7, 2009). "Mary G. Ross blazed a trail in the sky as a woman engineer in the space race, celebrated museum". The National Museum of the American Indian. Retrieved April 27, 2013.
  9. ^ Thornborough, Anthony M.; Davies, Peter E. (1988). Lockheed Blackbirds. St. Paul, Minnesota: Motorbooks International. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-7110-1794-8.
  10. ^ Bodie, Warren M. (2001) [1991]. The Lockheed P-38 Lightning: The Definitive Story of Lockheed's P-38 Fighter. Hayesville, North Carolina: Widewing Publications. p. 215. ISBN 0-9629359-5-6.
  11. ^ Briggs, Kara (December 18, 2008). "Cherokee rocket scientist leaves heavenly gift". NMAI Newservice. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  12. ^ a b "The Cherokee Nation Remembers Mary Golda Ross, the First Woman Engineer for Lockheed". Cherokee Nation. May 13, 2008. Retrieved April 27, 2013.
  13. ^ Martin, Benjamin (1963). "Manned Flight to Mars and Venus in the 70's". Heterogeneous Combustion Conference, Meeting Paper Archive. doi:10.2514/6.1963-1435. "of a particular set of Mars orbital excursions was conducted by M. G. Ross"
  14. ^ "Space flight handbooks. volume 3- planetary flight handbook, 1963 version". NASA. 1963.
  15. ^ "Video: Mary G. Ross – First American Indian Woman Engineer – Appears on 'What's My Line?'". Society of Women Engineers Magazine. Spring 2018. Retrieved August 9, 2018. Video of program included in article
  16. ^ Cook, Roy. "Cherokee stories and Mary G. Ross who blazed a path in the space race". American Indian Source. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  17. ^ Mary Ouimette-Kinney (July 10, 2016). "Mary G. Ross".
  18. ^ "Obituary for Mary G. Ross". San Jose Mercury News. May 6, 2008.
  19. ^ "Museum: Three elders, a century of inspiration". American Indian News Service. January 14, 2011. Retrieved April 27, 2013.
  20. ^ a b "Mary G. Ross' 110th Birthday". August 9, 2018. Archived from the original on August 9, 2018. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  21. ^ "Mary Ross Scholarship (established 1992)". Retrieved August 13, 2018.
  22. ^ Croucher, Shane (August 9, 2018). "The Google Doodle celebrates a pioneering female Native American aerospace engineer". Newsweek. Archived from the original on August 9, 2018. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  23. ^ "Mary Golda Ross: She Reached for the Stars". NMAI Magazine. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
  24. ^ "2019 Native American $1 Coin | U.S. Mint". Retrieved March 15, 2019.

External linksEdit