Mary Golda Ross was the nation’s first known Native American female engineer and, throughout her career, contributed to essential aerospace technology. Yet, like so many other women in STEM, her name and contributions have been historically overlooked.
But this year, in celebration of International Day of Women and Girls in Science, Harper’s BAZAAR and Olay have teamed up with the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum to create a new permanent statue honoring Ross. The statue, funded by Olay and designed by StudioEIS, is intended to not only memorialize Ross but to inspire others to pursue their own futures in STEM.
Ross, who passed away in 2008 at the age of 99, came from a family of pioneers. According to the Smithsonian, her great-great grandfather, John Ross, was the longest-serving chief of the Cherokee Nation and fought to protect the nation from incoming white settlers. Growing up, Mary Golda Ross studied mathematics at Northeastern State Teachers College in the capital of the Cherokee Nation, and she went on to work at both the Bureau of Indian Affairs and a boarding school for Native Americans. Then during World War II, she was hired at the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, which became a “key military facility during the war,” according to Harper’s BAZAAR. There, Ross worked on the P-38 Lightning fighter plane and later became the only woman on the original team at Lockheed’s Skunk Works, the company’s “then-top-secret think tank,” per the Smithsonian. A 1994 article in the San Jose Mercury News explained that, while on the team, Ross worked on “preliminary design concepts for interplanetary space travel, manned and unmanned earth-orbiting flights, the earliest studies of orbiting satellites for both defense and civilian purposes.” She’s also one of the authors of NASA’s Planetary Flight Handbook Vol. III, which discusses traveling to Venus and Mars.
During her retirement, Ross was passionate about advocating for other young women and Native American students to enter the world of STEM, and she was a member of the Society of Women Engineers, which created a scholarship in Ross’s name. On what would’ve been her 110th birthday, her nephew Jeff Ross, told Google: “Her accomplishments are a testament to her determination and love for education. Our hope as a family is that her story inspires young people to pursue a technical career and better the world through science.” Now, starting Feb. 23, you’ll be able to visit Ross’s new statue at the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City, the mathematician’s home state, and honor her legacy.
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