Mary Sherman Morgan

by Tatum McDonald

Early Childhood

Mary Sherman was born on November 4, 1921 on a dirt-poor farm in North Dakota. She lived with her parents, Michael and Dorothy, and her 5 siblings. While she lived at home Mary had to face many challenges, like poverty and abuse. In high school, she graduated as the Valedictorian even though she started school 3 years behind her peers. Mary's parents didn't see the value in education so, she ran off during the night to attend Minot State University.

Life Away From Home

While Mary was at college, studying chemistry, World War 2 broke out sending many men over seas. Soon, the country started lacking people to fill the job spaces as chemists. Mary found employment almost over night. She dropped out of college and started working in a factory, in Cleveland, producing top secret materials for the war. In 1943, Mary became pregnant out of wedlock and gave birth to Mary G. Sherman. Her cousin, whom she was living with in Ohio at the time being, adopted the baby and renamed her Ruth Esther. A little ways down the road she married George Richard Morgan and had 4 kids with him; George, Stephen, Monica, and Karen.

The Cold War

Eventually, Mary started working at North American Aviation in the Rocketdyne division, based in Canoga Park, California. At this time, the USSR had just successfully launched Sputnik and the United Stated was desperately trying to catch up. The U.S. asked North American aviation to assist them in finding a way to fuel their satellite, Explorer 1. Mary Sherman Morgan was the person who eventually came up with the formula for the new rocket fuel. She called the fuel Hydyne; It consisted of 60% unsymmetrical dimethylhyrdazine and 40% dimethylhydrazine. Hydyne was only used once, to fuel the Explorer 1, but without Mary's invention, the United States would have fallen severely behind in the Space Race.

The Final Years

On August 4, 2004, in California, Mary Sherman Morgan died because of complications related to emphysema. After her death, Mary's son George asked the Los Angeles Times to print her obituary with her achievements listed. They refused, saying that there wasn't enough physical evidence of her work as America's first female rocket scientist. However, George still believed that his mother's deserved credit for her work. He wrote a book and a play about her life and roll in the space race, they were both aptly named Rocket Girl.

An Inspiration

Mary pushed through it all, abuse, poverty, lack of a degree, and still managed to become America's first female rocket scientist. At her funeral, one of her former co-workers said that she " single-handedly saved America's space program...and nobody knows but a handful of old men." Mary Sherman Morgan is the epitome of intelligent young women, and she will inspire many young girls to the world of science and math.


"Mary Sherman was a very flawed woman, yet those flaws only make her life all the more inspirational." - George Morgan

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