Do you know something about Mary Sherman Morgan?

Please post any historical stories or personal anecdotes you know about Mary Sherman Morgan, America's first female rocket scientist. We are doing research for a possible biography.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

 I'm encouraging everyone who knew my mother, Mary Sherman Morgan, to post some anectdotes and stories from her past.  This is for research for a biography about Mary's life and accomplishments.  Click on "Comments" to add yours.  Thank you for your help!          ---George Morgan


  1. Wow - this is so cool. I've got a few stories - will post them over the next few days. Thank you for doing this!

  2. Remembering Mom

    What I know about her early life. She was bitter about having to wait to start school until her little sister Elaine was old enough. I think Mom didn’t start school till she was 7. 2 Stories as to why. She was too little to row the boat across the river to the one room schoolhouse. OR her parents wanted her and Elaine to start school together. No explanation given.

    I ask why she has no photos of her as a child or growing up. Her only reply – “Mother could no abide photography.”

    Mom was born Nov 4 1921. She was 4 yrs older than Dad. She had no birth certificate because she was born at home. Her brother Michael was the only surviving witness to her birth to prove she was an American citizen so she could obtain a passport in the 1980s.

    She was close to her older sister Amy but teased and tormented by her brothers and Elaine. She went several years no speaking to Elaine. She told me she found herself standing up straighter because she wasn’t being shut down by Elaine (my paraphrase). The eventually reconciled. Elaine died less than a yr after Mom.

    She had to live with an aunt she detested while going to school in Ohio. I do not remember the name of the aunt.

    I’m pretty sure she taught herself to read before she ever went to school. Elaine told Karen who told me they never had a single toy as a child except for a corn cob doll an aunt had made for each of them.

    Mom said they didn’t listen to Woody Guthrie singing on the radio about the dust bowl and Depression. They listened to big bands.

    Random stuff I remember:

    I once heard her sing a song. It went “I know all the songs the cowboys know “cuz I heard them on the radio.”

    She hated the show “Mash” because Alan Alda “was always interjecting his 1970’s politics into 1952 Korea”. The pretty much ruined the show for me. She also couldn’t stand the inaccuracies of “The Waltons” She said there’s no way we would have been driving to town all the time like the Waltons did. Gas was too precious and expensive.

    I once asked her what was her earliest memory. She said “My brother James’ funeral.” I never asked about her childhood again.

    I asked her about her wedding dress and whatever happened to it. She said she wore it out. She had made an off-white suit and wore many times after her wedding.

    She was crazy about babies. She road the brakes while driving. She drank instant coffee with canned evaporated milk. She loves flowers, especially renunculas and lilacs. She was an avid gardener.

    She was an expert seamstress and was very patient in teaching me to sew. She had a real eye for design and taught me a lot about how to chose fabric and patterns. She spent hours sewing sleeping bags and drapes and wedding gowns and bridemaids dresses and baby baptismal outfits and baby quilts – you name it. She sewed a lot of duffle bags and tote bags and soft-side luggage. She sewed elaborate costumes for herself and Dad at Halloween when they were more social in the 60’s.

    I never saw her swim, ride a bike, or run. She once put her feet in the pool on the 1st step. I was really surprised to see that. She couldn’t swim.

    She really loved Ronald Reagan. We never saw 1 minute of the Watergate hearings on TV. I don’t think she allowed it. She pooh-poohed the women’s’ movement but railed against the sexist injustices she put up with at her job at Rocketdyne. She was gaga to Gary Cooper. She liked James Garner.

  3. Thanks, Monica. I just learned a whole lot more about mom I never knew.

    1. Hi im Claire loomis, im doing a school wax museum project and need to know which high school she attended , please email me if you have an answer at thanks.

  4. From: KAREN NEWE
    MEMORIES 8/2010

    You should visit Ray, North Dakota.

    Dad says that Mom told him her Dad was very tough and to make money he would break wild horses. He would do this by taking them to a dry river bed and tire them out in the soft river bottom.

    When preparing for Mom’s services Elaine told me that there were no childhood photos of them. Elaine said a neighbor once took a photo of Elaine and mom. The brothers made fun of them being ugly in the photo so Elaine and mom tore it up.

    Mom told me she used to take a pony to school. At some point in the journey her brothers would meet her to row her across a river. One day they were not there to meet her so she rowed herself. As I recall she told me she was 5 years old, but that’s seems very unlikely.

    I remember her telling me fondly of her horse (pony?) she used to ride. His name was Blaze. It is the only time I recall her talking fondly of growing up. In the movie version you can have her say “Blaze” on her death bed as she drops a snow globe. Then we spend the rest of the movie trying to track down what “Blaze” means. :-)

    It seems when she would talk about school she had only happy memories of school.

    Once when the subject of teasing came up she got really emotional and expressed that teasing was cruel. At the time I knew she was referring to being teased by her brothers.

    Blaze - A blaze is a wide white marking that runs for all or most of the length of the horse's face.

  5. Monica's post gave me a few more memories.
    She was a stickler for facts. Once on MASH during one of those operting room scenes a character joked "anyone for pizza". She was annoyed saying no one (Americans) had heard of pizza during that period.

    She used to turn on her teapot, wander out to the garden, then the pot would be whistling throughout the house; I would have to go find her somewhere in the garden yelling "Mom! Your tea pot is ready!".

    When I had a pet baby chick it followed her everywhere in the yard, she liked it.

    She was furious DDT got banned saying she remembers using arsenic on the farm, (i.e., much worse then DDT).

    She said she coudl never relate to the city kids who could not wait to drive. As a young girls she had to drive the truck to help Dad fixed the fences on the farm, it was very borring. She really hated to drive.

  6. Great stuff! Keep it coming!

    Question: Does anyone have a clue what triggered Mary's interest in chemistry at such a young age?

  7. Here's a list of the Sherman family siblings, courtesy of Karen Newe and Dorothy Hegstad:

    Dorothy's genealogy chart in the 2000 calendar says it used to be SCHERMANN, I think Mom's grandparents. Interesting new info here. The book has a photo that says it is Elaine & baby Dolores, about 1914 but that does not add up with the info below. The baby looks more like a boy to me, maybe it is Amy with Michael, then 1914 would be correct. Dorothy Hegstad as all kinds of great info and photos.

    Sherman kids:

    Vincent S 8/18/1908 - 1909
    *Clarence Henry S 6/12/1910 - 7/10/1973
    *Amy Dorothy S 5/7/1912 - 2/19/1972
    *Michael Leo S 11/23/1913 - 10/1991
    James Joseph S 6/1915 - 1925
    *Vernon Francis S 11/30/1916 - 5/20/1986
    Dolores Rose S 10/5/1918 - 2/ 1919
    Rita Marie S 12/1919 stillborn
    *Mary Genevieve S 11/4/1921 - 8/4/2004
    *Elaine Vera S 7/21/1923 - UKN

  8. Home births started to became a trend in the 70s and Mom found the whole thing silly. Mom was born at home and she remembers her Mom strongly encouraging young moms-to-be to have thier babies in a hospital, rather then at home. At that time it was a conroversial idea and women had to fight for and demand hospital births. Hospitals were considered only for the ill. To Mom, the home-birth trend was a huge step back. She made her mom sound like a progressive female, like herself.

  9. About eight or nine years ago my daughter Carley did a taped interview with Mary and Elaine in which she discussed with them what life was like on the farm in Ray. I'll post pieces of it now and then. Some of the things they talked about:

    1) They burned lignite to stay warm. (Lignite is also known as "brown coal" - very dirty and polluting. It is found in many parts of northwestern North Dakota. There is even a small town near Ray named Lignite)

    2) They raised cows, chickens, and turkeys.

    3) They owned three dogs - each of whom was named Rover (all at the same time).

    4) They would graze the cows by the side of the highway because grass grew by the drainage ditch, where there was lots of water.

    5) Mary had many chores to do. She and Elaine were assigned to clean the creamer - every day.

  10. According to a the Carley Taped Interview - hereinafter referred to as the CTI - James died of dyptheria at age nine. Mary would have been about three years old then. She says the only thing she can remember about her older brother was "the funeral."

  11. This just in to our newsdesk: turns out I have an older sister I never knew about all these 56 years of my life. Mary had a baby at around age 17 or 18 - gave birth shortly after arriving in Ohio. She reportedly gave the baby up for adoption to a family member on her mother's side. This sister would be about 72 years old today.

  12. Another update on that last post. According to Dorothy Hegstad, Mary's adopted baby was named Angela Marie Hibbard, born October 20, 1942 - which would make her 67 years old as of today. It also means Mary was several years older than I previously reported - 21 years - when she gave birth.

    The puzzle pieces are slowly coming together. The real question now is: Angela Marie Hibbard - where are you?

    Here's a link to a young girl's photo bucket who did an award-winning demonstration of Mary's life for a history fair:!/album.php?aid=22907&id=100000447379061&ref=mf

  13. Photos. Does anyone have any photos of the Sherman children from when they lived on the farm in Ray?

  14. She never once even glanced at the TV when I was little but in later yrs she liked Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune and The A Team.

    She read all the classics of literature and had a large personal library.

    She helped me drill my spelling words. She was good about that but got very angry at the “new math” I desperately needed help on.

    Mostly I remember her sitting at the dining table with her instant coffee, a cigarette, and 4 hands of bridge.

    She was probably the most unnostalgic person I ever met.

    On hippies she said “If I wanted to wear a uniform I’d join the army.”

    She loved George Carlin and The Smothers Brothers.

    She said the San Fernando Valley is the only place she’s ever been happy in.

    She was crazy Catholic but very private about it. We were marched to church at gunpoint. We always went to confession at a different church. Hmmm.

    When the “sit-in” and the love-in” were happening in the 60’s Mom declared she was going to have a “Hate-In.” All invited guest were to come dressed at the character they hate. She was going to dress as “Clyde Crashcup” – a goofy cartoon character. He was a hapless inventor. (eg: he would invent “the shoe” and then put it on his head).

    I, too remember her waxing fondly on DDT. Now that bedbugs are back she would say “See, I told you so.

  15. My dad, Vernon Sherman, used to tell me when I was younger that out of all of his siblings, Mary was the smartest. She could do Math in her head and never have to use a piece of paper or calculator.

    He also said he got a kick out of her, becuase one time he said he told her to bring him a switch so he could beat her butt (I guess she did something that made him angry), so she went to a tree and took the tiniest limb she could find and made it so small you couldn't do anything with it. My dad laughed so hard that they both ended up laughing about that one.

    I remember growing up and going to visit the Morgan house during the summer, she was the coolest Aunt. She and my Uncle Dick would actually go on a date and leave us with a baby sitter. I never had a baby sitter before visiting the Morgans that summer. She also cooked Hot Dogs, which I thought was way cool, because we never had Hot Dogs just because for dinner.

  16. We have a major update and correction from the September 9 entry. About three hours ago - 6:10 pm PST - I called someone named Ruth Lichter in Detroit who had emailed me last week saying she had information on Mary. Dorothy Hegstad got a couple of details wrong.

    Turns out our older sister IS alive - and Ruth is her !

    Angela Hibbard apparently was the adoptive mother, and Ruth was Mary's daughter, adopted by Angela. The details are still coming in and I don't want to post anymore until we have them nailed down better. More to follow shortly.

  17. Angela Marie Hibbard is NOT Mary Sherman Morgan's daughter or the mother who adopted Mary's daughter. Angela (born October 20, 1942) is the adoptive SISTER of Ruth and elder daughter of Mary Miller Hibbard (who was born in Ray, ND on September 22, 1910) and Dudley Irving Hibbard. Mary Sherman's baby was Mary G. Sherman (after her mother), on her birth certificate and renamed Ruth Esther Hibbard (after Mary Hibbard's twin sisters) by her adoptive parents. She was born April 13, 1944 in Philadelphia, PA and adopted by the Hibbards of Huron, Ohio almost immediately. I know all this because I AM Ruth Hibbard (Fichter), and Mary Grace Catherine Miller Hibbard Wechter and (Dudley) Irving Hibbard were the parents who adopted me. Too bad the Millers (Mary Miller Hibbard's parents) weren't around in young Mary Sherman's life in Ray because Mary's father, Henry (Harry) Miller, was a spectacular photographer! He died VERY young, and they left Ray. I'll try to find out who the aunt was that Mary went to live with in Ohio. I have my suspicions. I'll try to post more later. Right now I'm working on getting copies of photos and records to George.

  18. I am crazy about babies. I am love flowers and leave the teapot on and wander out to the garden. I really hate to drive, but I do everyday. I learned to read before kindergarten and resented that my older brother, Chris, got to go to school and I didn't. I am very, very unnostalgic. Everyone loves George Carlin, so that's a given. My son Matthew is addicted to Jeopardy. My son Kyle is a math whiz. My daughter Bridget only had a corn cob doll. OK, I made that last part up. By the way, my name is Kathye (Fichter) Quirk and Mary was my grandmother.

  19. Thank you all for taking the time to post here. I need as much information as possible to properly to fill a 250 page biography. Please keep it coming.

  20. I recall once that my mother said my biologiccal father was of Irish decent and his name was Pat. Imagine, an Irishman named Pat. That should narrow it down. She also indicated that he was a charming skunk, who dropped your mother like yesterday's leftovers when she told him she was pregnant. These are very old, vague memories (it's not like my mother ever talked about the whole situation a lot), and I could even have those few "facts" wrong. Sorry, that 's the sum and total of what I know about him.

  21. She loved to play hearts and blackjack, and was actually pretty good at explaining the game to a teenager. Also the happiest I've ever seen her in all my life, was when we were playing hearts and Richard was soooooooooo bad on it he got all the points. Which in hearts, that means he "shot the moon." Which ius the best thing u can do. Mary laughed for minutes at accidently doing the hardest thing in cards possible and we iddn't even catch it.

  22. Mr. Morgan, I'd like to speak to you privately about your mother. Would you please e-mail me at Thank you in advance.

  23. I'm happy to announce that a New York publishing company has agreed to turn my manuscript ROCKET GIRL into a book. More on this as it develops.

    Now, more than ever, we need as much background, pre-1970 information on Mary as we can get. Your help is needed.

  24. A blog page on Mary from Steven Smith, a docent at Cape Canaveral:

  25. November 30: The deadline for the manuscript.

  26. The book was release July 9, 2013 -- three days ago. Sales seem to be going well. Most Barnes & Nobles are carrying it.

  27. It was one thing to read your book as a reviewer, but to come here and see how the story actually developed was a real treat.

  28. Hello George!

    I just finished reading "Rocket Girl" at lunch today and am SO HAPPY that I had fouond it at the Central Library and read it cover to cover.
    I admire Your Mother's hard work and Service to the Nation and will always remember Her as She DID make a Contribution to getting America into Space.
    She was a bit like my Mother in certain personality traits, but the Big Thing was that She helped with those first steps getting up there and Her Contribution can never be over or underestimated.
    Her Story, as You wrote it, would make an outstanding motion picture starring Actress Claire Danes as Your Mother, so I Hope that You would give that consideration.
    BTW, "Rocket Scientist" is the term that the majority use, but the REAL TERMS are "Astronauticist" and "Astronautical Engineer."

  29. Just picked up this book at my Public Library. Couldn't put it down! Love the writing style, a very easy and entertaining read. Love the mix of historical and contemporary. I wonder what Mary's reaction to her posthumous popularity would be? I'm recommending this book to everyone I know! Thank you, George for giving us this gift!

  30. Whoever that last anonymous poster is, could you please email me a photo of you holding the book? I'm collecting photos of satisfied readers. Post it to my Facebook timeline: Thanks !

    George Morgan

  31. Dear George Morgan:

    Oh my! I bought your book the moment I found it and just finished it this morning. The book is a beautiful tribute to your mother. She was amazing both during her highs and at her lows.

    I am so sorry that I did not know about the play - I would have loved to have seen it. Perhaps it will be staged again - I hope so!

    Your mother was a remarkable scientist and I hope that the verification of her accomplishments is finally definitively made, but if not . . . well, after all your research, you know what happened. In the end, with these cold warriors you rarely get even this much certainty.

    I can imagine how difficult it was for you to write this book. You did a really wonderful job of finding a way to piece together a story that is so very strange. Even though I am a science dope you explained the science in a way I could almost comprehend. I enjoyed the book very much.

    There are so many things I would like to ask you - maybe the biggest question I have for you is obvious: Do you think maybe your mother was "just" respecting her security pledge? Perhaps the "mystery" about her work propels the story forward better than just facing the wall that secrecy places before us all. Did you wonder that your father and your mother's co-workers didn't seem to clear up much? Was it forgetting, not knowing or the stonewalling of people similarly committed to never telling those secrets?

    I loved the book and I could ask you questions for a week. I understand after my own family research how you came to the conclusion that history is as uncertain as the future. While my family research did not lead to a story about such an important scientific breakthrough, it did lead me down many similar research roads. Your book is a comfort and an affirmation of the strange journey a space age parent proposes.

    Good luck with the book and thank you for such a wonderful story!

  32. Mr. Morgan,

    I just finished your book last evening, absolutely could not put it down.

    Saying you have done your Mom proud is truly an understatement!

    Reading about "the Hill," brought back so many memories of growing up in the "Valley." We'd hear those test engines all the time and never realized what was happening.

    Again I say, well done Sir.


  33. Thanks, Bill. I appreciate those kind words.


  34. George - are you the one who came into my store in Santa Paula and told me about this book? If not, can you tell me what your mom's connection to Santa Paula was?


  35. George,

    My wife picked up your book for me at a recent trip to a local bookstore, then she forgot to mention it to me until last evening. I read the first chapter while falling asleep. I stayed home from work today (excuse was to care for a child, but real reason was to read your book). I just finished. A wonderfully told story. One minor editorial criticism: Toward the end, you refer to the NAA Canoga facility as "recently renamed Rocketdyne." Not sure about the "recently." My father was an engineer who spent the 50s in something having to do with thermonukes in Kansas City, with frequent trips to Los Alamos. He, like von Braun, wanted out of the weapons business badly. I was 9 years old in 1963 when our family packed the '58 Fairlane and the white vw -- yes, with the small rear window -- and moved to California. More specifically, L.A. Even more specifically, Canoga Park, where my dad went to work at the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation on the Saturn/Apollo project (he was specifically involved in the F1 engines - the 1st stage boosters. Despite continued tight security, by the time Rocketdyne's contracts were primarily for the civilian NASA, there were regular "family days." So the Canoga plant and SSFL were both familiar scenes to me (though the F1 was too big to be tested at Santa Sue -- he had to drive to Edwards AFB for its static tests). Your book brought back a lot of memories, and put a lot of what my dad did into better focus and perspective. He died in '78 at age 49 from causes that the doctors could never adequately explain. My guess is delayed effects from too many nuke tests in the Nevada desert and/or too much contact with the sorts of exotic brews your mother and he were responsible for concocting. Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Greg, for posting.

      Could you do me a big favor and send me a photo of you and your wife holding the book? I'm putting together a photo collection of happy readers. You could send it here:

      My parents were both very proud of the work they did at the SSFL -- I just wish they had talked about it more.



      My web site:

  36. P/S - that last comment was not meant to be a downer or negative toward those who did the work your mom did. I know those who did it loved it like my dad did. Though my dad would humor those who assumed his proudest moment would have been Armstrong and Aldrin, I knew his proudest moment was when Apollo 7 cleared the tower. He left Rocketdyne within months after Apollo 11, because he saw the main effort and funding were done. He went to work then for Litton in inertial navigation (I got a kick out of your mention that the inertial nav gyro on the Redstone/Jupiter C was a "spinning top stage). He thought it was for civilian/space exploration purposes, but it soon evolved into the first generation of the then preposterously unbelievable technology that we now know as cruise missiles and drones.

  37. Thanks, Greg, for posting.

    Could you do me a big favor and send me a photo of you and your wife holding the book? I'm putting together a photo collection of happy readers. You could send it to my email:

    My parents were both very proud of the work they did at the SSFL -- I just wish they had talked about it more.


    George D Morgan

    My web site:

  38. Where can I get a look at your script for the play...can performance rights be purchased?

    Christopher Fry

  39. George: I just finished your book "Rocket Girl" and found it fascinating. There must be a lot more that we don't know about the early space program and the real unsung heroes of that period. You are to be commended for making sure in a real and lasting way that your mother's contributions are not lost. Also it is not lost on me(an old timer) that folks in the past were just a lot smarter than the crop of computer-aided hot shots of today. Great job!
    Tom Conner

  40. When I was a kid, my grandmother used to talk about how we were related somehow (I think cousins) to a woman named Mary who helped invent rocket fuel. What she said always stuck with me, especially because I have a major pastime of astronomy and astrophysics. Anyways, I saw an article about her today and started researching a bit and stumbled on this blog. Was wondering if there was a way I could find out if Mary really was related to my grandmother? Please e-mail me if you have a chance. Thanks


  41. I just read your book about Mary; it's wonderful....such a great profile of the working 50's woman and the lack of support or recognition they got. And she looks so much like my own mom back then. Great book, would love to read 'part 2' about her continued work and her return to family years. thanks for the great effort.

  42. Happy to have dedicated a tweet to your mom thanks to a story that appeared in the VC Star. Hope this helps spread the word about the fantastic accomplishments of an important role model for young girls who want to become rocket scientists. Best regards, Sandra. Co-author The Rainbow Girls, series of books serving as inspiration for young middle-school girls to follow their dreams toward a professional career. and blogging at

  43. I am an editor on Wikipedia. The Hydyne article primarily attributes its invention to Silverman. There is also a bit of a rant of this on the M.S. Morgan talk page. I was wondering if you have any publicly available evidence to refute this. In your book, you also mentioned a letter from Von Braun. Is it possible to get a reputable copy on Wikipedia to be added to the Morgan article? I enjoyed Rocket Girl very much. Thanks for writing it. Cheers -Jim

  44. Mr. Morgan, I'm a 22 year old girl who lIves about three miles or so from where your mother grew up (I'm in Wheelock, Nd). My dad is here telling me the story about your mother, though, and he says he knows a little about your mother's parents (he grew up in this area- Ray, Nd). Anyways, he's interested in contributing to your knowledge or else just meeting up if you're ever in the area! Contact me at and I'll relay any information to my dad. :) God bless!

  45. Hi George,
    My name is Jan Hamber. I am the California Condor Biologist at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History where I manage the Condor Information System. The CIS contains over 4,000 references to the condor (with at least another 4,000 waiting to be entered). I have studied that species since 1976. I just discovered the book you wrote about your mother and was fascinated by your last chapter "Wings of the Condor". In your Author's Notes you state that the story is true, but its place in time has been altered somewhat for the sake of storytelling. I've no problem with that, as it was a very exciting chapter. However, I would love to hear the full and accurate details as told by your source, G. Richard Morgan, who I assume is your father. It would add so much to the story of the research and recovery of that endangered species. Since you said that the condor was a female from Big Sur, I checked with my friend in the Ventana Wilderness Society who is in charge of releasing condors in that area. The event didn't ring a bell with the biologist there. Like you, I'm working at saving all the condor notes, articles, reports and research so the story of the California condor is not lost. My e-mail at SBMNH is: I do hope you will be willing to share that amazing story of the condor and the rocket for posterity.

  46. Dear George, thank you for doing the research and writing Rocket Girl. A fascinating and riveting story! It is so wonderful that you captured your mother's historical contribution to the American space program. God bless you, your Dad, rest of the family and all persons who shared memories of your Mother.

    1. Thanks for posting your comments, Donna. Where do you live, and how did you find out about the book? If you're on Facebook, please friend me at Thanks! George

  47. hi George. I live in Delaware. I was browsing through the new and recent book sections in in our local library. your mother's book was facing out. I was immediately drawn to this book because of the picture of your mother and the title Rocket Girl. when I read the subtitle, America's First Female Rocket Scientist, I knew I had to read this book. any American female who is first in a predominantly male field, especially the scientific field, is definitely a woman I want to know about. I am 61 yrs. old. Career opportunities for women have progressed throughout the years thanks to women like your Mother.

  48. Excellent article that will provide the incentive and basis for my works. I wonder if I can mention the article as a bibliographic reference in my work. Thanks!

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  49. I am not anonymous, my name is Chuck Lahmeyer, Jefferson City, MO. This is the only way I seem to be able to post.
    I just finished reading your book Rocket Girl and found it captivating and an excellent read. I agree with others who say that our country owes her quite a lot. You have done a fitting tribute to her. This blog is also most interesting and informative. I don’t believe the book ever reveals who “Walter” was, can you enlighten us?
    I am writing because the coincidences between your story and people I knew just keep popping up. I am retired from JPL so Ashley Stroupe who wrote the forward to the book may have been my co worker at some point. I retired in 2005. Caltech was officially my employer and signed all my paychecks, while there were actual paper paychecks. I was an outer space nut as a kid and watched all the space programs. I remember the Disney series very well. You mentioned building model rockets and launching them in the Mojave Desert. Was that at Lucerne Dry Lake by chance? I also built rockets powered by zinc and sulfur and launched them in my hometown of Jefferson City, MO. I still have one of them, built in 1958. As an adult I once again engaged in the rocket hobby around 1998-2001 and launched rockets up to 10 feet tall, usually at Lucerne Dry Lake. I also knew Al Hibbs who was our spokesperson at JPL for many years. I love the quote from him to Gen. Medaris, sounds like Al! Oh yes, I also worked for a Bill Weber at JPL, different spelling.
    The main reason I am writing is to relate a story of someone who may have worked with your mother at Rocketdyne. Justine Weiher (she pronounced it weer) was a dear friend, coworker and carpooler for 25 years or so. She had studied chemistry (or chemical engineering) and had worked at Rocketdyne back in the rocket engine days. She only spoke of her career there one time but I recall her saying that women at Rocketdyne were rather treated as second class citizens. The main point I recall was that when a rocket engine was to be tested and she might have gone to a window to watch it, she was prevented from doing so “because she was a woman”. Justine would be 83 years old today, somewhat younger than your Mom but they surely must have worked there at the same time. I like to think they knew each other but neither is around to answer this question. I like to think that Justine was one of those who stood applauding your mother as she “retired”. I like to think that she may have been one of those 12 or so women who worked there after your mother had helped open doors for women. -- continued --

  50. Chuck continued ....
    Perhaps due to this discrimination, Justine left the chemistry profession and came to JPL, eventually to work in the library department as a document reviewer. That meant editing and clearing JPL documents for outside publication. She was highly regarded at the Lab (JPL). She generously helped proof read a book I was publishing (not as author) in 2001.
    I found this brief obituary to her still available online in the LA Times archives. Brief it IS, one line about her career. Justine was a dear friend, she never married. She suffered from muscular dystrophy which progressed slowly and did not cause her death but limited her mobility. She died of cancer quite suddenly in 2002. We stayed in touch long after we stopped carpooling and I took her out to dinner a couple of times during those years. Your stories of your mother’s travails at Rocketdyne rang some bells and I rather heard “Justine” as I read of your mother. I like to think they knew each other.
    I learned of your book because another book with a related title, The Rise of the Rocket Girls, was recently published and the author was interviewed on the radio. When I googled that title I found your book also. Rocket Girls is about the computer ladies of JPL and I have both books now.
    After retirement my wife and I moved to my hometown of Jefferson City, Missouri. We did not complete the move until spring of 2009 so I would have been in Southern California while your play Rocket Girl was being performed. I am truly sorry I missed it. Congratulations on a job well done, a story well told and a tribute to your mother.

    WEIHER, Justine Born March 4, 1933 and passed away January 1, 2002. She was a long time employee of JPL. She is survived by her sister Joan Shea (John). Rosary is Monday, Jan. 7 at 7:00 pm and the Funeral Mass is Tuesday, Jan. 8, at 12 Noon both at San Fernando Mission Cemetery. Pierce Brothers Simone DuBois Mortuary, (626) 287-0595 assisting the family. Published in the Los Angeles Times on Jan. 6, 2002

  51. I also enjoyed reading "Rocket Girl" but going through this thread of first hand memories has been a real treat.

    I am a science journalist ( and I am writing an article on Mary Sherman Morgan for Chemistry World. If anyone who knew her personally would be happy to have a chat or exchange a few emails with me as I prepare the article please do drop me a line at
    Thanks Anna

  52. Just finished reading the book - it was recommended by the local library for Women's History Month - it was a really great read. I found this site through one of the links in the ebook, and a few others as well. Love the pic of your mom below too!


Mary at North American Aviation - 1956