Women in American Computing
June 19, 2012 by Ann Harmon
The opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and not necessarily those of The New Agenda.
Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about women not contributing anything to computing. “Men invented the Internet,” a recent New York Times article by David Streitfeld declared. In a recent issue of Wired magazine, Caleb Garland offered the supposedly humorous idea that what is really necessary to writing a good, long-lived computer program is having a long beard, complete with a cartoon chart of beard length matched with programming languages. He generously listed Grace Hopper, commonly referred to as the mother of the COBOL language, as an “exception that proves the rule.” In response, I’ve compiled this timeline of women in American computing. It’s not the same as inventing the first ever compiler for an electronic computer, which Grace Hopper also did, but it’s one more part of the Internet created by a woman.
Timeline of Women in American Computing
* 1940s: American women were recruited to do ballistics calculations and program computers during WWII. Around 1943-1945, these women, who were called “computers,” used a Differential Analyzer in the basement of the Moore School of Electrical Engineering to speed up their calculations, though the machine required a mechanic to be totally accurate and the women often rechecked the calculations by hand.
* 1940s: Jean Bartik, Betty Holberton, Frances Spence, Kathleen Antonelli, Marlyn Meltzer, and Ruth Teitelbaum were the original programmers of the ENIAC, the world’s first general-purpose electronic computer.
* 1950s: Orbital calculations for the United States’ Explorer 1 satellite were solved by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s all-female team using mechanical calculators, supplemented with logarithmic calculations performed by hand. Many of the women were recruited right out of high school.
* 1952: Grace Hopper (1906–1992), developed the first ever compiler for an electronic computer, known as the A-0 System.
* 1960s: Mary Allen Wilkes became the first developer of an operating system (LAP) for the first minicomputer (LINC). In 1965 she became the first person to use a computer in a private home.
* 1961: Dana Ulery (1938-) became the first female engineer at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, developing real-time tracking systems using a North American Aviation Recomp II, a 40-bit word size computer.
* 1962: Jean E. Sammet (1928-), developed the FORMAC programming language.
* 1965: Sister Mary Kenneth Keller (1914? – 1985) became the first American woman to earn a PhD in Computer Science. Her thesis was titled “Inductive Inference on Computer Generated Patterns.”
* 1969: Jean E. Sammet became the first person to write extensively about the history and categorization of programming languages.
* 1972: Adele Goldberg (1945-), was one of the designers and developers of the Smalltalk language, which appeared in 1972.
* 1972: Sandra Kurtzig founded ASK Computer Systems, an early Silicon Valley startup.
* 1974: Jean E. Sammet became the first female president of the Association for Computing Machinery.
* 1978: The Association for Women in Computing was founded in Washington, D.C.
* 1979: Carol Shaw became the first woman to program and design a video game, 3D Tic-Tac-Toe for the Atari 2600.
* 1980s: Susan Kare (1954-), created the icons and many of the interface elements for the original Apple Macintosh.
* 1980: Lynn Conway (1938-), co-authored ”Introduction to VLSI Systems.”
* 1984: Roberta Williams (1953-), did pioneering work in graphical adventure games for personal computers, particularly the King’s Quest series, which was first released in 1984.
* 1985: Radia Perlman (1951-), invented the Spanning Tree Protocol.
* 1985: Irma Wyman (~1927-), became the first Honeywell Chief Information Officer.
* 1989: Frances E. Allen (1932-), became the first female IBM Fellow.
* 1993: Shafi Goldwasser (1958-), a theoretical computer scientist, won the Gödel Prize for “The knowledge complexity of interactive proof systems.”
* 1993: Barbara Liskov, together with Jeannette Wing, developed the Liskov substitution principle.
* 1993: Sally Floyd (~1953-), co-invented Random early detection with Van Jacobson.
* 1997: Anita Borg (1949–2003), became the founding director of the Institute for Women and Technology (IWT).
* 1999: Marissa Mayer (1975-), became the first female engineer hired at Google.
* 2002: Jeri Ellsworth (1974-), co-designed the single-board computer C-One.
* 2006: Frances E. Allen became the first female recipient of the Association for Computing Machinery’s Turing Award.
* 2008: Mary Lou Jepsen (1965-), founded Pixel Qi, a manufacturer of low-cost, low-power LCD screens for laptops.