Mary Golda Ross
Mary Golda Ross, considered the first female Native American engineer, started her career teaching math and science then working as a statistician for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Moving to California at the beginning of World War II looking for new work, she was hired as a mathematician by Lockheed Martin where she worked on engineering designs for fighter jets, satellites, missile systems and rockets. Researching the compressibility effects on the P-28 fighter plane as it reached the sound barrier, Ross felt she was taking the theoretical and making it real.
Impressed with her work Lockheed sent her to UCLA to earn an engineering certificate after which she was tapped as one of the forty founding engineers of Skunk Works, a top secret division dedicated to creating revolutionary aircraft and technologies. At Sunk Works Ross worked on the earliest studies of orbiting satellites, preliminary design concepts for interplanetary space travel, manned and unmanned earth-orbiting flight, as well as the Agena rocket.
She was one of the authors of a NASA planetary flight handbook about space travel to Mars and Venus. In the latter part of her career she was promoted to the senior advanced systems staff engineer opening up the opportunity for her to contribute to the development of the Trident and Poseidon missiles.
After her retirement in 1973, Ross became an outspoken supporter for Native Americans and women joining the field of engineering. As a co-founder of the Los Angeles section of the Society of Women Engineers she acted as a mentor to college-bound students. She was also highly involved with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and the Council of Energy Resource Tribes helped both groups expand their educational programs.
At the age of 96, she attended the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC and upon her death she left a large sum of money to the museum and asked that it be placed in its endowment, because as a mathematician she knew that the interest from her gift would continue to support the museum for years to come.
Written by Angela Goad