Throughout her career, which spanned almost 50 years, Ross contributed heavily to aerospace engineering and to the community of Native Americans and women in engineering as a role model and mentor. Ross was part of the 0.1% of Native American scientists and engineers and 11% of women employed as aerospace engineers. She was a trailblazer in her field at a time when people of her gender and background were not welcome at the table.
Here are five things you should know about Mary Golda Ross:
1. Mary G. Ross was the first Native American woman to become an engineer.
Ross earned a professional certification in engineering in 1952, becoming the first Native American woman engineer in history. Ross’ major contributions were in the fields of interplanetary travel, and manned and unmanned earth-orbiting flights. She was the first woman engineer ever hired by Lockheed Martin and Space Company.
2. Ross was the first woman engineer ever hired by Lockheed Missiles and Space Company.
Mary G. Ross worked on major projects like the Agena rocket, which was a crucial step in making the moon landing possible, several planning teams for missions to Mars, Venus, and other planets, and the Poseidon and Trident missiles. Most of the work that Ross did remains classified, though, keeping most of her contributions to the companies she worked for and the aerospace industry at a whole hidden until the records are released. One of the top-secret projects Ross founded and worked on was Skunk Works, a think-tank on interplanetary travel, in which she was the only woman other than the secretary.
3. Ross is the granddaughter of a famous Cherokee chief.
Ross was born in Oklahoma in 1908 and grew up with her grandparents in the Cherokee Nation capital of Tahlequah. Her grandfather, Chief John Ross, led the Cherokees on the Trail of Tears from the Southeastern United States to Oklahoma, where they relocated after the forced journey.
4. Ross used to be a high school teacher.
Before earning her master’s in math from Colorado State College of Education, Mary G. Ross received a degree in math from Northeastern State College and taught high school math and science in rural Oklahoma. Ross was hired as a mathematician at Lockheed Martin in 1942, where a manager recognized her talent and got the company to send her to UCLA to earn a classification in aeronautical engineering.
5. Ross encourages other Native Americans and women to enter STEM fields.
Mary G. Ross was active in the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, and the Council of Energy Resource Tribes to encourage Native Americans and women to continue in their education, particularly in the fields of math and science. The Santa Clara Valley section of the SWE created the Mary G. Ross scholarship in 1992 to empower young women in engineering with funding for college.
Due to her contributions to the Native American community, Ross participated in the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., at the age of 96. When she died in 2008 at the age of 99, she left more than $400,00 to the Museum as an endowment.