When women were women, and computers were women

This week is the 60th anniversary of ENIAC -- the first all-electronic machine that would eventually take the name of its programmers: computers. It was an engineering feat, but it was also a programming feat. As we remember Presper Eckert and his male colleagues, we should also remember the women who invented computer programming.

As WITI (Women in Technology International) points out: "The first programmers started out as 'Computers.' This was the name given by the Army to a group of over 80 women working at the University of Pennsylvania during World War II calculating ballistics trajectories - complex differential equations - by hand. When the Army agreed to fund an experimental project, the first all-electronic digital computer, six "Computers" were selected in 1945 to be its first programmers. They were Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, Jean Jennings Bartik, Frances Snyder Holberton, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Frances Bilas Spence and Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum."

Jean Bartiks points out, in a submission to WITI, that "The Women of the ENIAC created the field of programming, which quickly became at least as important as hardware in determining the usefulness of computers. At the time that the ENIAC women did their initial work, they were the only programmers of general-purpose electronic computers in the world."

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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