There are those pioneers of science and technology we know by name and celebrate regularly, your Isaac Newtons and Albert Einsteins. Then there are those whose accomplishments have been far too often overlooked by mainstream society, but who efforts in their fields have been no less trailblazing, no less revolutionary or important. Sadly, these overlooked scientific minds are, all too often, women and people of color.
Today, Google has decided to shine a light on one such woman on what would have been her 110th birthday.
Mary G. Ross was born in 1908. The great-granddaughter of Cherokee Nation Chief John Ross, Mary attended school on the reservation and received her bachelor’s degree in math at only 20 before spending years teaching math and science during the height of the Great Depression.
But it’s what she did in her 30s and 40s which earned her the coveted Google Doodle. In 1942, Ross was hired as a mathematician at Lockheed Martin working on new designs for cutting-edge spacecraft, but while she enjoyed the work, she knew what she really wanted was to help humanity travel into space. She had taken as many astronomy classes as she could while pursuing her Master’s Degree, but it would take years, and the end of WWII for her dreams to finally be realized.
After the war, Lockheed not only kept her on, a rarity for companies at the time who were returning to the male-dominated pre-war conditions they were used to, but they also sent her to continue her education in engineering. That work allowed her to join Lockheed’s then-secret team of engineers and scientists who were working to invent all new craft that could leave Earth’s atmosphere and begin exploring the stars. She was both the only woman and the only Native American on the staff at the time.
While Ross isn’t credited with one singular invention or breakthrough, she is by far one of the most influential early aerospace engineers in history. She helped invent satellites and technology that would be instrumental in the creation of the American space program, and her work was at the core of the Apollo program.
In 2004, when she was 96-years-old, Mary G. Ross attended the opening of Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, proud of her heritage, of her accomplishments, and of her role as the Cherokee rocket scientist. To this day, Ross remains an inspiration to women, and especially women of color, seeking the chance to break ground in their own scientific fields.