Rocket Girl – the story of Mary Sherman Morgan (a reprise)

The following post was written about eight years ago. It bears repeating to honor our first female rocket scientist.

Per the description of the biography called  “Rocket Girl” by George D. Morgan about his mother on the Amazon website: “This is the extraordinary true story of America’s first female rocket scientist, told by her son. It describes Mary Sherman Morgan’s crucial contribution to launching America’s first satellite and the author’s labyrinthine journey to uncover his mother’s lost legacy – a legacy buried deep under a lifetime of secrets political, technological, and personal. Blending a fascinating personal history with dramatic historical events taking place on the world stage, this compelling narrative brings long-overdue attention to a modest but brilliant woman whose work proved essential for America’s early space program. In 1938, a young German rocket enthusiast named Wernher von Braun had dreams of building a rocket that could fly him to the moon.

On the opposite side of the world, a young farm girl named Mary Sherman was attending high school in Ray, North Dakota. In an age when girls rarely dreamed of a career in science, Mary wanted to be a chemist. A decade later the dreams of these two disparate individuals would coalesce in ways neither could have imagined. In a vivid narrative, Morgan relates how World War II and the Cold War space race with the Russians changed the fates of both von Braun and his mother. When von Braun and other top engineers could not find a solution to the repeated failures that plagued the nascent US rocket program, North American Aviation, where Mary Sherman Morgan then worked, was given the challenge. Recognizing her talent for chemistry, company management turned the assignment over to young Mary.

In the end, America succeeded in launching rockets into space, but only because of the joint efforts of the brilliant farm girl from North Dakota and the famous German scientist. While von Braun went on to become a high-profile figure in NASA’s manned space flight, Mary Sherman Morgan and her contributions fell into obscurity.” You can see more about the book with the following link:

http://www.amazon.com/Rocket-Girl-Sherman-Americas-Scientist/dp/1616147393

I learned of Mary Sherman Morgan the other day while watching PBS Newshour. They interviewed her son George about his book about his mother, the rocket scientist. Many things strike me about this story. First, her talent could not be restrained by the social limitations of the day. She succeeded in spite of being the “only woman in the room” on almost every occasion. To do what she did with the constant push back, both verbally and non-verbally, speaks volumes of both her ability and character. Whether due to race, ethnicity or gender, to always be the lone different one in a group of people, takes some chutzpah to succeed that many don’t have.

Second, she was an unassuming woman. Her family and friends had little, if any, understanding of the huge role she played in the US space program. She did not wish to be in the limelight and because of her gender, no one pushed her into it. So, others took her portion of the credit for the glory and she was OK by that. Her son wrote this book to tell the real story. He had to do a lot of digging. His mom made a difference and others need to know about it what she did.

I am a father of three, with my daughter the youngest at age 16. I want every opportunity for her and do not want anyone to limit her because of her gender. That is grossly unfair to her and society. Unfortunately, women do not get these opportunities in many places around the globe. I have said often, on top of the gross unfairness, it is economically suicidal for a country to limit the opportunities of at least half of its intellectual capital. What if they have a Mary Sherman Morgan in their midst, but deny her educational opportunity? They would never realize the potential of her ability.

This is why it so important for all of us to push and keep pushing for equal opportunity. It is imperative that all people be treated with dignity and be in a safe and secure environment. I personally do not care what religion you follow, but if your group’s interpretation of your scripture puts down women and treats them like possessions, then either you need to get a better interpretation or maybe find a new religion. Social justice is a moral imperative. We must treat all with respect and just because you’re a man, does not mean you should get more than your fair share.

To flourish, we need more Mary Sherman Morgans in our world. If we have them and let them be successful, our world will be a better place. You go, Rocket Girl!

14 thoughts on “Rocket Girl – the story of Mary Sherman Morgan (a reprise)

    • Angie, many thanks. I have read often, women need more men to stand up and say the maltreatment is wrong. If you want a tough read, check out Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof’s book called “Half the Sky.” Based on an old Chinese proverb that women hold up half the sky, not only is it wrong to treat women poorly and as second class citizens, it is economically inept as a region is only competing with half of its intellectual capital. Keith

      • Thanks Keith. I’m heading over to Amazon to look this one up. Chinese proverbs have always interested me. It’s their latest politics I don’t like.

        Happy Easter!

      • Oh indeed we are Keith, along with our son and his wife too.
        These stories must be shared.
        Here’s a snippet to dwell on. During WWII in both the USA and UK women ferried warplanes from factory sites to bases in substantial numbers. In the USA this included the heavy bombers of the day.
        Paul Tibbets the pilot of Enola Gay, a perfectionist in his field was most impressed by the standard of crews these women supplied. And this is what he did:
        https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/flygirls-wasp-and-b-29/

      • Roger, thanks for sharing this. I was aware of the ferrying, but not the remarks about their focus on quality. Plus, Bletchley Circle was far more than what Alan Turing did, with women playing a key role. Keith

    • Thanks Pepper. It truly is a pleasure to make their efforts more widely known. More men need to speak up for women, in my view. Truthfully, I often am just learning about their accomplishments a few days before and want to share what I just learned. Keith

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