Mar 3, 2022

MARY SHERMAN MORGAN: An Inspiring but Overlooked Woman of Science

Calkins Creek/Astra Books for Young Readers

We're already three days into our current "THEME MONTH", Women in History.

BLAST OFF! How Mary Sherman Morgan Fueled America into Space is written by Chicago area author Suzanne Slade and illustrated by Sally Wern Comport. When it comes to women in history whose stories are underreported, particularly those in science, Mary Morgan takes the cake. 

 Born in 1921, one year after women were legally allowed to vote, she was eight years old before the truant officer forced her family to let her go to school.  On a family farm, chores were not subject to a vote and even though she had to work overtime on studies to catch up for her late start, Mary completed her chores. Somehow, she found time to read, and read she did! 


By high school she proved herself to be a superior student, one who realized that chemistry was endlessly fascinating. Since her parents expected her to continue living at home and helping with chores, she worked multiple jobs, studied, saved, and applied for scholarships t go off to college. Her first two years of study gave her a good foundation, but her money had run out and she needed to stop school to work. At that time businesses hired women to do the work of men who had gone off to fight in the war, and Mary learned while earning money in an explosives factory making munitions for the war effort.


A few years later those men were back to compete for the job she wanted, and the boss at her dream company had 900 employees working on chemical fuels- all men! Mary made her case for being fully qualified, that man gave her a chance, and she was off to learn and develop advanced fuels and chemical combinations. I loved reading that her trusty sliderule was always on hand, her formulas were precise, and she double-checked every calculation. I celebrate her ability to VERIFY and CONFIRM computations, especially for a generation of readers who turn to handheld devices for math calculations, 


That proficiency and accuracy made her the lead scientist in a secret project to develop rocket fuel that could launch America’s first satellite. The pages detailing her thinking, experiments, failures and ultimate success are action-packed and compelling. Her determination was fueled by her fear that too many failures or false starts might make the public want to abandon space travel as too expensive. So she never gave up, and she led her teams to a successful launch, on schedule, with a promise that many more space adventures would follow. Back matter includes a timeline and extended details that provide curious readers with more about Mary’s life, American space programs, the Explorer 1 and Juno 1 rockets, and further readings. 


Mary Sherman Morgan was a woman who saw and pursued the potential within her and the potential beyond what she already knew. Her faith in science, in math, and in the uncharted opportunities of space should have been dramatized in film and books long before this, but it was worth the wait to read about her life and contributions now. Don’t let another day go by without reading her story. 

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