Mary Golda Ross

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Mary Golda Ross
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

Colorado State Teachers College in Greeley, master's degree in mathematics, 1938

University of California, Los Angeles, professional certificate in engineering, 1949
Known forFirst Native American female engineer
Notable workLockheed P-38 Lightning

Skunk Works Project Polaris Project Agena Rocket Project Poseidon Missile Project Trident Missile Project

NASA Planetary Flight Handbook Vol. 3
RelativesGreat-grandfather: John Ross
Engineering career
Employer(s)Lockheed Corporation, 1942; joined their Advanced Development Program (Skunk Works), 1952.
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

Mary Golda Ross (August 9, 1908 – April 29, 2008) was the first Native American female engineer.[2] She was also the first female engineer in the history of the Lockheed Corporation.[2] She worked at Lockheed from 1942 until her retirement in 1973, where she was best remembered for her work on aerospace design.[3] She was one of the 40 founding engineers of the renowned and highly secretive Skunk Works project while at Lockheed Corporation.[4] Throughout her life, Ross was dedicated to the advancement of young women and Native Americans in STEM fields.[3]Ten years after her death, in 2018, Ross was chosen to be depicted on the 2019 Native American $1 Coin by the U.S. Mint celebrating Native Americans in the space program.[5]

Early life and education[edit]

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.[6] She was the great-granddaughter of the Cherokee Chief John Ross. John Ross was influential in the creation of the new settlement in Oklahoma following the removal of Native Americans from their land under Andrew Jackson. This settlement for the Cherokee Nation was complete with a school and government.[7]

A talented child, she was sent to live with her grandparents in the Cherokee Nation capital of Tahlequah, Oklahoma to attend primary and secondary school.[8]

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.[9]

In 1938, Ross received her Master's degree in mathematics from Colorado State Teachers College, now known as the University of Northern Colorado, in Greeley.[10] While obtaining her Master's, Ross still took as many astronomy classes as were offered to satisfy her intense fascination with space.[4]

In 1949, after World War II, Lockheed sent Mary G. Ross to the University of California, Los Angeles to study further. While at UCLA, she was able to obtain a professional certification in engineering.[7] Ross was the first Native American woman to obtain this certification.[4][3]


Ross began her career teaching math and science in rural Oklahoma schools for nine years, mostly during the Great Depression.[11]

In 1936, Ross took the civil service examination to work for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in Washington, D.C., as a statistical clerk.[6]

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.[10][12] While she was working at the boarding school, Ross was working towards completing her Master's in mathematics.[4]

A few years after obtaining her Master's degree, Ross relocated to California in 1941 to seek work after the US joined World War II.[10]

In 1942, Ross was hired as a mathematician by Lockheed. Her primary role, at the beginning of her career at Lockheed, was working on developing fighter planes.[3] One of her assignments during this time was analyzing 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.[13][14] Throughout her career, Ross helped to solve numerous design issues involved with high speed flight and issues of aeroelasticity for fighter jets.[11] Ross was able to perform intricate calculations to advance the field of aerospace design using only a pencil, slide rule, and Friden computer.[7]

Following WWII, when men returned from war and displaced women from the jobs they held during the war, Lockheed decided to keep Ross on their team. They even sent Ross to UCLA for a professional certification in engineering, which she obtained in 1949.[3]

In 1952, Ross helped found Lockheed's Advanced Development Program, known as Skunk Works. She was one of only forty people who worked on this project and was the only female on the team.[15] The work done by Ross and her team for the Skunk Works project was highly confidential, and even now, most of the specifics are still classified.[4] However, it is known that Ross's work on the Skunk Works project involved "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."[4]

As the nation’s focus shifted towards the Cold War and new weapon technology in the form of missiles, Lockheed recognized this shift and created the Lockheed Missiles and Space branch.[16] Ross played an important role in research and performance evaluation of ballistic missiles and other new defense technologies for this new branch. It was also during this time that Ross made important discoveries for advancing technology related to submarine launched spacecraft and defense systems that would apply to the Polaris project.[15]

Another major contribution Ross made while at Lockheed was for the Agena rocket project. The Agena rocket was a big part of the Gemini mission, which was a manned space exploration aimed towards testing equipment and various procedures while in Earth's orbit.[17] The Agena was used as a rendezvous and docking spot for the Gemini team. This project came to fruition in 1966 when it was launched into space and had a successful mission.[17] This project was the beginning of the United States' involvement in the space age.[3] Ross's main role in this project was in developing the specific criteria for the rocket itself using her extensive research in hydrodynamics. This aided in her advancement to establishing preliminary design concepts for flyby missions to Venus and Mars.[3]

By the late 1960s, Ross was promoted to the senior advanced systems staff engineer position. This led to Ross joining the team working on the Poseidon and Trident missiles.[18][19]

Ross's engineering career at Lockheed prepared her for her contributions to the NASA Planetary Flight Handbook Vol. 3, which is still relevant to space travel today.[3][15]

Later life[edit]

"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[20] and worked to recruit young women and Native American youth into engineering careers. Since the 1950s, she had been a founding member of the Society of Women Engineers. This society focuses on aiding in the development of other young women in their pursuit of a career in engineering by providing mentoring, scholarship, and community to young women.[16]

She also supported the American Indians in Science and Engineering Society (AISES) and the Council of Energy Resource Tribes by expanding their educational programs.[12]

At age 96, wearing her "first traditional Cherokee dress" of green calico made by her niece, Ross participated in the opening ceremonies of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.[12] Upon her death in 2008, she left a $400,000 endowment to the museum.[9][21] This endowment was left to continue her legacy of support and celebration for Native Americans.[22]

Awards, recognitions, and important contributions[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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 d "Hall of Fame: Mary G. Ross". Silicon Valley Engineering Council. Archived from the original on November 29, 2020. Retrieved August 13, 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Mary Ross". Retrieved October 5, 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d e f "Mary G. Ross (U.S. National Park Service)". Retrieved October 5, 2023.
  5. ^ "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.
  6. ^ a b Agnew, Brad (March 20, 2016). "'Golda' Ross left teaching to support war effort". Tahlequah Daily Press. Oklahoma. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c "Mary Golda Ross and the Skunk Works". The National WWII Museum | New Orleans. November 19, 2021. Retrieved September 15, 2023.
  8. ^ Zierdt-Warshaw, Linda; Winkler, Alan; Bernstein, Leonard (2000). American women in technology : an encyclopedia. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1576070727. OCLC 48139041.
  9. ^ a b Briggs, Kara (December 24, 2008). "Cherokee rocket scientist leaves heavenly gift". Cherokee Phoenix. NMAI Newservice.
  10. ^ a b c "Celebrating the First Native American Female Engineer". Indian Country Today Media Network. March 26, 2013. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
  11. ^ a b Whipple, Erin (April 27, 2021). "People of Color in STEM: Mary Golda Ross". Rocky Mountain Alliance For Minority Participation. Retrieved October 5, 2023.
  12. ^ a b c d 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. Archived from the original on December 30, 2012. Retrieved April 27, 2013.
  13. ^ Thornborough, Anthony M.; Davies, Peter E. (1988). Lockheed Blackbirds. St. Paul, Minnesota: Motorbooks International. p. 8. ISBN 978-0-7110-1794-8.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ a b c "Mary Golda Ross: She Reached for the Stars". NMAI Magazine. Retrieved September 25, 2023.
  16. ^ a b "Mary Golda Ross: Aerospace Engineer, Educator, and Advocate". Retrieved September 25, 2023.
  17. ^ a b "NASA - NSSDCA - Spacecraft - Details". Retrieved October 5, 2023.
  18. ^ Mary Ouimette-Kinney (July 10, 2016). "Mary G. Ross".
  19. ^ "Obituary for Mary G. Ross". San Jose Mercury News. May 6, 2008.
  20. ^ "The Cherokee Nation Remembers Mary Golda Ross, the First Woman Engineer for Lockheed". Cherokee Nation. May 13, 2008. Archived from the original on December 21, 2013. Retrieved April 27, 2013.
  21. ^ "Museum: Three elders, a century of inspiration". American Indian News Service. January 14, 2011. Archived from the original on January 16, 2011. Retrieved April 27, 2013.
  22. ^ "Mary Golda Ross: Aerospace Engineer, Educator, and Advocate". Retrieved September 25, 2023.
  23. ^ Smith, Yvette (August 9, 2018). "Mary Ross: A Hidden Figure". NASA. Retrieved September 25, 2023.
  24. ^ "Mary G. Ross | Biology Inclusion Committee | Washington University in St. Louis". Retrieved October 5, 2023.
  25. ^ "California Business and Professional Women". California Federation of Business and Professional Women. Retrieved October 5, 2023.
  26. ^ a b "Mary G. Ross' 110th Birthday". August 9, 2018. Archived from the original on August 9, 2018. Retrieved August 9, 2018.
  27. ^ "Mary Ross Scholarship (established 1992)". Retrieved August 13, 2018.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ "Mary Golda Ross: She Reached for the Stars". NMAI Magazine. Retrieved March 15, 2019.
  30. ^ "2019 Native American $1 Coin | U.S. Mint". Retrieved March 15, 2019.

External links[edit]