This woman overcame a tough childhood to become someone who made a difference.
Mary Sherman Morgan was born on a farm in North Dakota, the youngest of six children. Her parents, indifferent about her education, kept her out of school until she was eight years old. Luckily, a social worker intervened and told her father he would be arrested unless Mary could leave the house. The social worker gave Mary riding lessons and a horse so that she could travel to a one-room schoolhouse.
She did her farm chores while learning to read and write. When she finished high school, she was the class valedictorian, although she was three years older than her classmates because of her late start in school.
Morgan wasn’t done learning, and she didn’t want to stay on the farm. The only way was to run away. She studied chemistry at college and live in secret with an estranged aunt. When World War II started, Morgan worked at a munitions factory, creating chemical compounds. After the war ended, she traveled to California and got a job at North American Aviation. There she mathematically calculated the performance of new rocket propellants. She was one of 900 engineers in the company, the only one without a college degree, and the only woman.
In the 1950s, the Soviet Union and the United States were racing to be in space. After the Soviet Union sent up the first satellite, the United States followed. What propellant launched the U.S. satellite flight? One developed by Mary Sherman Morgan and her team.
Mary Sherman Morgan is called “The Woman Who Saved the U.S. Space Race.” She didn’t let her upbringing hold her back.
Thanks to Sam Maggs and her great book Wonder Women. And thanks to Morgan’s son, George, who not only made this image of his mother public, but after her death researched her top-secret job and found out the amazing details of his mother’s life.