Mary Golda Ross (Aug 9, 1908 – Apr 29, 2008) was the first known Native American Female Engineer. She made major contributions to the aerospace industry.
Sometimes you never know what you might learn when you click a Google Doodle. She was also the great -great granddaughter of Chief John Ross of the Cherokee Nation. She was born in the small town of Park Hill in Oklahoma where she chose to follow a nontraditional path for women.
She taught math and science until she returned to school to earn her masters in math from Colorado State College of Education. She was very bright at a young age. At the age of 16, she enrolled into Northeastern State Teachers College.
She moved to California in 1941 to seek work after the US got involved in World War II. She was hired as a mathematician by Lockheed in 1942 where she began working on the effects of pressure on the Lockheed P-38 Lightning jet, which was one of the fastest airplanes at that time.
After the war Lockheed sent her to UCLA for a Professional Certification in Engineering. Wikipedia stated that it was unusual for a company that hired a woman to keep her after the war had ended. They must have felt that she was a valuable as one of the guys. She must have held her own because she was one of 40 founding engineers of the highly secretive “Shunk Works Project” at Lockheed Corporation.
In 1958 she appeared on the TV program “What’s My Line?”, where contestants had to guess who design rockets and missiles. My mom who grew up in Mississippi, but lived in Detroit said that she once made it to “The Price is Right” when she visited California. She also talked about that old Indian that she never really knew. I must have missed it or it when right over my young head.
Many years pass and I’m about to enter the service for the second time, I see a movie that made me re-think about a persons world view. As an US Army Officer we talked about military history and I knew about the Battle of Little Big Horn. The movie ‘Little Big Man’ was the story of a young man who straddled two worlds. It was the first time I looked at Cowboy and Indian movies in a different light.
At the age of 96 Mary participated in the Opening Ceremonies of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C. in Sept 21, 2004.
Ten years later, when I finally visited the city during the Annual Cherry Blossom Festival, it was one of the places I wanted to tour. In 2010 at my mothers funeral I learned that her father, my grandfather that I never met was a Native American. Mom gave birth to 14 kids and worked into her mid eighties catching the bus in the cold Detroit winters. To me that’s a pioneering attitude and a Native American perseverance.
Mom remembered when her mom died because she was only eight. She called the man who dropped the seed, that made her, as “that old Indian”. I always wondered where she got her independent spirit from, and it finally made sense. The dad that she never knew kept track of all his off spring during his life time. And when mom was born in 1919 she was the last of his 33 kids, so I wanted to make the connection to that part of my roots.