People: Mary G. Ross blazed a trail in the sky as a woman engineer in the space race
By Kara Briggs
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.”
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)