December 27, 2009

Most influential "maid" since Pocahontas?

In First Native Rocket Scientist? I reported on Mary G. Ross, the Cherokee rocket scientist. Here's another article on her accomplishments:

People:  Mary G. Ross blazed a trail in the sky as a woman engineer in the space race

By Kara BriggsBy 1948, Ross was on the ground floor of what would become the space race. In 1952 Lockheed asked her to be one of 40 engineers in what became known as the Lockheed Skunk Works, a super-secret think tank led by legendary aeronautics engineer Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. It was the start of Lockheed Missiles & Space Co., a major consultant to NASA based in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Ross was 45, the only woman and the only Native American. Most of the theories and papers that emerged from that Lockheed group, including those by Ross, are still classified.

Around the time of the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik, Ross moved into the public eye. In 1958 she appeared on the television show “What’s My Line?” It took contestants many guesses before they realized that the smiling woman in a V-necked, sleeveless black dress in fact, as the caption read, “Designs Rocket Missiles and Satellites (Lockheed Aircraft).”

One San Francisco-area newspaper article from 1961 called Ross “possibly the most influential Indian maid since Pocahontas,” and noted that she was “making her mark in outer space.” She told the interviewer, “I think of myself as applying mathematics in a fascinating field.”
Comment:  I wonder how often Indians appeared on What's My Line? It would've been interesting to have a tribal chief who didn't look like a (stereo)typical Indian as the mystery guest.

Sacagawea is undoubtedly the most famous Indian woman, and the most influential in terms of pop culture, since Pocahontas. But that raises the question of who really are the most important and influential Indian women in history. Most people would put Pocahontas and Sacagawea on the list, but they actually didn't do that much. They certainly didn't do much to help Indians in general.

But if not them, then whom? There must be better candidates than these two, but I'm not sure whom I'd put on the list. Do we go with someone (relatively) obvious such as Wilma Mankiller or Winona LaDuke, or are there better candidates in the historical record?

Below:  "Mary G. Ross, at 96, joins the 2004 opening procession for the Smithsonian's new National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall in Washington, D.C." She's accompanied by Suzette Brewer, the author of Sovereign: An Oral History of Indian Gaming. (Photo by Mary McCarthy)

1 comment:

Rob said...

For more on Mary Ross, see:

Celebrating the First Native American Female Engineer

With March being Women’s History Month, it’s a good time to remember an important Cherokee woman: Mary Golda Ross.

Born on August 9, 1808 in Oklahoma, Ross was the first female and the only Native American engineer at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation in Burbank, California during the Space Race.