Women in Computing in the UK

Women in the History of Computing

Lady Ada Lovelace
Thought by many to have written the first ever computer program, calculating Bernoulli numbers. Wrote an analysis of Babbages Analytical engine.

Admiral Grace Hopper
Was a programmer on one of the first computers in the 2nd World War. Later she invented the computer compiler and this lead to the first 'high' level language 'COBOL'.

Adele Goldstine
Wrote the mannual for one of the first computers, being one of the first programmers in the world

Edith Clarke
One of the first women Electrical engineers. Designed and patented the first graphical calculator.

Erna Hoover
Invented the computerised telephone switching mechanism

Rozsa Peter
Founder of Recursive function theory
 


logoLady Ada Lovelace

Brief Biography

Early Influences

Augusta Ada Byron was born December 10, 1815 in London, England. She was the daughter of the renowned poet, Lord Byron, who named her after his half-sister. She was a sickly child, which would plague her for the rest of her life. Soon after Ada was born, Lady Byron asked for a separation from Lord Byron. Ada was then raised by her mother, Annabella Millbanke. Annabella was worried that Ada might become a poet like her father. Ada was creative and imaginative, however her mother brought her up to be a mathematician and scientist. Despite her mother's efforts, Ada did not give up her artistic nature. She enjoyed dancing, gymnastics, and horseback riding as a child. She also became an accomplished musician and learned to play the harp, piano, and violin. She frequented concerts, theaters, and elegant parties where she met many influential people.

At the age of 17 Ada was introduced to Mary Somerville, who was known for translating LaPlace's works. Ada was able to learn geometry through Mrs. Somerville, who encouraged her to apply mathematics to real life. Ada also attended astronomy and mathematics lectures with Mrs. Somerville. Somerville is credited to introducing Ada to her future husband. Ada married Lord William King, who later became Earl of Lovelace, and had three children.

Babbage and the "Analytical Engine"

Ada first heard of Charles Babbage's ideas at a dinner party in 1834 for a new calculating engine, the Analytical Engine. Ada showed an understanding for Babbage's work that no one else could match. She continued her studies in mathematics with the description of the engine written by the Italian, Menabrea. Ada, in 1843, translated Menabrea's article from French into English. After Babbage saw her translation, he suggested that she add her own notes, which turned out to be three times the original article. In an article published later that year, Lady Lovelace's comments included predictions the machine might be used to compose music, to create graphics, and would be used for both practical and scientific use, over a century before the first computer was built.

Ada suggested writing a plan for how the engine can calculate Bernoulli numbers, which is regarded as the first computer program. Unfortunately, construction of the Analytical Engine would never be completed. Babbage lacked the money and was unable to get funding from the government, since no one could understand the engine quite as well as Ada. They also lacked the materials which were yet to be invented.

Later years

Ada decided that the money necessary for the building of the engine could be raised by gambling on horse-races. Unfortunately, this idea did not work and she ended up selling her family jewels. Her social life included Sir David Brewster (the originator of the kaleidoscope), Charles Wheatstone, Charles Dickens and Michael Faraday. However, her life continued to be plagued with illnesses. She became addicted to morphine as a result of her treatment. Ada Lovelace died of cancer in 1852 at the age of 36.

The United States Department of Defense honored Ada Lovelace by naming a programming language, Ada, after her in 1977. Ada is an object-oriented programming language that is popular in Europe for communication purposes.

From: Ada Lovelace Biography

Other Resources
logoAdmiral Grace Hopper

Brief Biography

"A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are for. Sail out to sea and do new things." --Grace Hopper,

Few people have done as much to transform the world as Grace Murray Hopper, "Amazing Grace" to those who knew and loved her. In her work with the first computers she put us on the track to making computers accessible to everyone. Without her belief that computers could be programmed in plain English and her invention of the first computer compiler it is unlikely that you would be on the web today.

Grace Murray Hopper was born in December 1906 in New York City. The oldest of three children, she showed a very early interest in gadgets always trying to figure out how things worked. When she was seven she disassembled seven alarm clocks to see what made them tick. Her love of mechanics led her to Vassar College where she earned a B.A. in Math and Physics. After her graduation she joined the Vassar faculty where she remained until 1943. Never one to be idle, she continued her studies at Yale while teaching. In 1930 she earned her M.A. and then in 1934 her Ph.D in Mathematics.

Wanting to assist in the war effort and from a family with a history of military service, Grace decided to join the Navy. At first the Navy didn't want to take her. At 34 years old and 105 pounds she was both overage and underweight. In addition, her profession as math professor was viewed as vital to the war effort. However, the Navy gave in. She was enrolled in Midshipman's School and graduated in the top of her class.

After she completed her training she was assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University where she worked on the first full scale digital computer, the Mark I. Mark I was used to calculate aiming angles for naval guns in a variety of weather conditions. Grace was only the third person to program the Mark I and her work not only fanned the fires of love for mechanics, it also won her the Naval Ordnance Award for her work on these computers (including Mark I, II and III). She earned the high rank of Real Admiral before her retirement.

At 40, Hopper was too old to remain in active service. She turned down a renewed position with Vassar and jumped into the world of business. She joined the Eckert - Mauchly Computer Corporation (the inventors of ENIAC) as a senior mathematician. Eckert - Mauchly introduced BINAC (Binary Automated Computer) which was programmed using C-10 code instead of punch cards. This opened the world up for UNIVAC I and II, the first commercial computers.

When Grace came to work for Eckert - Mauchly all programming was still done using a series of binary codes (using only 1s and 0s). This made it very easy to make mistakes and incredibly difficult to find them. Grace was convinced that if computers could be programmed in plain English then they would become much more accessible. When she suggested this her team scoffed at her. But that didn't stop Grace Hopper.

In 1952 she developed the first computer compiler for the UNIVAC computer. Initially it was called the B-O compiler and then later renamed FLOW-MATIC. The compiler worked like a form of shorthand that called up the code already written in the computer files. This allowed for computers to be used for normal business operations like automated billing and payroll calculation. By the end of 1956 she had reached her goal of "teaching" UNIVAC I and II to recognize English statements.

In 1959 she took her work one step further and invented the computer language COBOL, the first user friendly business software program. She worked hard to get this standardized and soon the Navy and others were using the language.

Her work has changed the face of computing. She was the first person ever to receive the Computer Sciences Man of the Year Award from the Data Processing Management Association in 1969. In 1991, she was the first individual woman to receive the National Medal of Technology. The Navy has celebrated her accomplishments by naming one their newest destroyers in her honor, the U.S.S. Hopper." And all of us continue to uphold her memory when we talk about computer bugs. She was the first person to coin this term when she found a moth jammed into a computer processor had stopped its operation.

According to the Invention Connection, "Grace Hopper hung a clock in her Naval office that ran counterclockwise as a reminder of the key principle to her success: Most problems have more than one solution." She proved that through her many achievements that have left a lasting legacy for all of us who use computers today.

From: Inventors Museum - Grace Hopper

Other Resources
logoAdele Goldstine

Brief Biography

Adele Golstine and all the women involved with ENIAC

At the dawn of World War Two, it became evident to the Ballistic Research Laboratory (BRL) in Aberdeen, Maryland that it needed a new method for calculating ballistic tables for gunners in the war. These tables were extremely important to the gunners, who had the location of a target, the distance to it (the range), and the angle to the target from a cardinal direction. He needed, however, a conversion of the angle through the vertical plane of the gun. This was so that he knew how high to raise the weapon when firing; because of gravity and the projectory of the bullet, one cannot fire directly at a target. The gunner also had information pertaining to any head, tail, and cross winds in the area, the local air density, and the weights of his shells. Prior to the early 1930s, women calculated tables for this information and "every combination of gun, shell, and fuse" (Goldstine 135-6) -- women had this responsibility, since the Army considered it clerical work, which men "lacked the patience" for (Petzinger 1). It took roughly 20 hours for a person to calculate one such table manually. Around 1930, however, it quickly became apparent to the BRL that this was not efficient, and the organization began using a Bush differential analyzer to do the calculations. By using this machine, the time to calculate one table was cut to approximately 15 minutes. As time went by, however, even this improved time was inadequate for the vast number of tables which needed to be calculated; in 1935, the Army set up a contract with the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School of Electrical Engineering to allow the BRL full use of their faster Bush analyzer (Weik 2). Once this contract was in place, the BRL began instituting programs at the Moore School as part of an extensive project by the US Government to train people in various technical fields to assist in the war effort. Lieutenant Paul Gillon, for example, instituted classes for young women with science degrees, and contracted some of the School's instructors to train these women in ballistic computing. In 1942, a BRL officer by the name of Herman Goldstine took over operations at the Moore School. He terminated the Moore School's contracts with the instructors of the ballistic classes, and appointed three women as teaching staff instead: his wife Adele, Mildred Kramer, and Mary Mauchly. While an instructor, Adele Goldstine also made frequent trips to colleges throughout the Northeastern United States, in the hopes of recruiting more knowledgeable young women to be trained at the Moore School. Shortly thereafter, the Women's Army Corps (WAC) formed, and some of these women became available as "computers" to the BRL.

As mentioned earlier, the Bush differential analyzer, while able to perform calculations more quickly than a human, was still inefficient for the vast amounts of tables that the BRL required. A digital machine would not have the speed restrictions that the analog device had; however, no existing machine would run faster than the Bush analyzer. Therefore, the optimal course of action seemed to be to design a new machine that used a digital approach, but had considerable speed enhancements. In 1942, John Mauchly, a professor at the Moore school, circulated a brief memorandum summarizing his ideas on differential and harmonic analyzers; it caught the attention of a graduate student named Presper Eckert, and the two began communicating frequently. In April of 1943, a committee (including Mauchly, Eckert, Herman Goldstine, and Lieutenant Paul Gillon) met with the director of the BRL to discuss ideas about a new digital computing machine. "At this meeting," Goldstine relates, "Gillon named the proposed machine the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer and gave it the acronym ENIAC" (150).

Two years later, in April of 1945, the machine was complete. Adele Goldstine and a colleague produced an operating manual, a technical report, and a maintenance manual for the ENIAC. Later that year, Herman Goldstine put together a team of "six of the best computers to learn how to program the ENIAC." These "computers" included Kathleen (McNulty) Antonelli, Frances (Bilas) Spence, Jean (Jennings) Bartik, Elizabeth (Synder) Holberton, Ruth (Lichterman) Teitelbaum, and Marilyn (Wescoff) Meltzer (Goldstine 202, Petzinger 2). Although there is no mention in Goldstine's recollection of the history of the ENIAC as to the vast importance of these seven women (including his wife Adele), it is evident in his writing that these women were responsible for the majority of the programming and maintenance of the ENIAC:

Holberton [the man in charge of the six women programmers] and his group had been assigned the responsibility...of becoming the programming staff for the ENIAC when it was turned over by the Moore School to the government [in July 1945]. ... They were trained largely by my wife, with some help from me...[t]he only persons who really had a completely detailed knowledge of how to program the ENIAC were my wife and me. Indeed, Adele Goldstine wrote the only manual on the operation of the machine (Goldstine 229-30).
At that point, "programming" the ENIAC meant "setting dozens of dials and plugging a ganglia of heavy black cables into the face of the machine, a different configuration for every program" (Petzinger 2). To ease this burden, Jean Bartik -- one of the original programmers of the ENIAC -- teamed up with Adele Goldstine in 1946 to lead a group that implemented the mathematician John von Neumman's "stored program" computer. The stored program machine relieved programmers of needing to reconfigure the cables for each equation that the machine solved.

Unfortunately, the women faced many trials as programmers: "their government job rating was SP, as in 'subprofessional.' Initially, they were prohibited as security risks from entering the ENIAC room, forcing them to learn the machine from wiring diagrams." (Petzinger 2-3). Apart from the difficulties and discrimination that these women faced at the time, many re-tellings of the ENIAC's history barely even mention their contributions. Karen Coyle laments this fact in her essay "How Hard Can It Be": "It takes difficult eyes to see where women have been and what they have done. The role of women like Ada Lovelace or Admiral Grace Hopper...will not appear on the pages of books that look to glorify male heroes." (45). Even Herman Goldstine's precise and detailed recollection of the ENIAC and the circumstances surrounding its existence merely categorically lists the names of the women programmers -- misspelling one of them -- and mentions which of the male engineers that each woman eventually married. Sadly, it therefore appears that Coyle's interpretation of the way that patriarchal histories remember influential women is correct.

From: Women's First Roles in the 20th Century Computer World: The ENIAC


Other Resources


logoEdith Clarke

Brief Biography

Edith Clarke, born in a small farming community in Maryland, went to Vassar College at age eighteen to study mathematics and astronomy and graduated in 1908 with honors and as a Phi Beta Kappa. Subsequently, she taught mathematics at a private girls' school in San Francisco, and then at Marshall College in Huntington, W. Va. In the fall of 1911, Edith enrolled as a civil engineering student at the University of Wisconsin. At the end of her first year, she took a summer job as a "Computor Assistant" (skilled mathematician) to AT&T research engineer Dr. George Campbell and was so interested in the computing work that she did not return to her studies, but instead stayed on at AT&T to train and direct a group of computors.

In 1918, Edith left to enroll in the EE program at MIT, earning her MSc. degree (the first degree ever awarded by that department to a woman) in June 1919. In 1919, she took a job as a computor for GE in Schenectady, NY, and in 1921 filed a patent for a "graphical calculator" to be employed in solving electric power transmission line problems. Also in 1921, she took a leave from GE to take a position as a professor of physics at the U.S.-founded Constantinople Women's College in Turkey. Returning to GE in 1922 as a salaried electrical engineer, Edith continued there till her first retirement in 1945. In 1947, after a brief first retirement on a farm in Maryland, she accepted an EE professorship at the University of Texas, Austin, and became the first woman to teach engineering there. She worked there as a full professor until her second retirement in 1956.

In a March 14, 1948 interview by the Daily Texan, she commented on the future prospects for women in engineering: "There is no demand for women engineers, as such, as there are for women doctors; but there's always a demand for anyone who can do a good piece of work." A New York Times article of Feb. 19, 1956, said, "She believes that women may help solve today's critical need for technical manpower."

Dr. James E. Brittain's paper, "From Computor to Electrical Engineer--the Remarkable Career of Edith Clarke," sheds light on how she was a pioneer for women in both engineering and computing:

"Edith Clarke's engineering career had as its central theme the development and dissemination of mathematical methods that tended to simplify and reduce the time spent in laborious calculations in solving problems in the design and operation of electrical power systems. She translated what many engineers found to be esoteric mathematical methods into graphs or simpler forms during a time when power systems were becoming more complex and when the initial efforts were being made to develop electromechanical aids to problem solving. As a woman who worked in an environment traditionally dominated by men, she demonstrated effectively that women could perform at least as well as men if given the opportunity. Her outstanding achievements provided an inspiring example for the next generation of women with aspirations to become career engineers."

From: Edith Clarke (1883-1959)

Other Resources
logoErna Hoover

Brief Biography

One of the most well-rounded American inventors since World War II is Erna Schneider Hoover. She earned a B.A. with honors from Wellesley College in medieval history and a Ph.D. from Yale University in philosophy and foundations of mathematics, and then taught for some years at Swarthmore College. Finally, in 1954, Hoover accepted a research position at Bell Laboratories in northern New Jersey. There she created a computerized switching system for telephone call traffic---and earned one of the first software patents ever issued.

Hoover was in the hospital after giving birth to one of her three daughters when she drew up the first sketches of her system. At the time, Bell Labs, being overwhelmed with the number of calls coming through, wanted to replace their hard-wired and mechanical switching equipment with a more complex and efficient system. Hoover's solution was to use a computer to monitor the frequency of incoming calls at different times, and to adjust the call acceptance rate accordingly. By putting a simple theory into practice throughthe complexities of computer programming, Hoover eliminated the danger of overload in processing calls.

In addition to patent #3,623,007 (Nov. 23, 1971), Hoover's system earned her a position as the first female supervisor of a technical department at Bell Labs. The principles of Hoover's switching system are still widely used today, as various communications companies struggle with ever increasing incoming traffic.

From: Erna Schneider Hoover

Other Resources
logoRozsa Peter

Brief Biography

Rózsa Péter (originally Politzer) grew up in a country torn by war and civil strife in which simply living from day to day was never easy. She made major contributions to mathematical theory for which she received some recognition in her lifetime, but her name, which should be written together with the names of the founders of computational theory (Gödel, Turing, Church, Kleene), is all but forgotten today. In this, she no doubt shares the fate of other Eastern European scientists of the same period.

"No other field can offer, to such an extent as mathematics, the joy of discovery, which is perhaps the greatest human joy,"* said Rózsa Péter in her lectures to general audiences, which were often titled "Mathematics is Beautiful." In the mouth of another, this might be a naive effusion; for her, it was hard-won wisdom.

Péter enrolled at Eötvös Loránd University in 1922 with the intention of studying chemistry but soon discovered that her real interest was mathematics. She studied with world-famous mathematicians, including Lipót Fejér and Jósef Kürschák, and it was here that she met a longtime collaborator, László Kalmár, who first called her attention to the subject of recursive functions.

After she graduated in 1927, Péter lived by taking tutoring jobs and high-school teaching. She also began graduate studies. Kalmár told her about Gödel's work on the subject of incompleteness,** whereupon she devised her own, different proofs, focusing on the recursive functions used by Gödel. She gave a paper on the recursive functions at the International Congress of Mathematicians in Zurich in 1932, where she first proposed that such functions be studied as a separate subfield of mathematics. More papers followed, and she received her Ph.D. summa cum laude in 1935. In 1937, she became a contributing editor of the Journal of Symbolic Logic.

Forbidden to teach by the Fascist laws passed in 1939, and briefly confined to the ghetto in Budapest, Péter continued working during the war years. In 1943, she wrote and printed a book, Playing with Infinity, a discussion of ideas in number theory and logic for the lay reader. Many copies were destroyed by bombing and the book was not distributed until the war ended. She lost her brother and many friends and fellow mathematicians to Fascism, and a foreword to later editions of Playing with Infinity? memorializes them.

In 1945, the war over, she obtained her first regular position at the Budapest Teachers' College. In 1951 she published a monograph, Recursive Functions, which went through many editions and which earned her the state's Kossuth Award. When the teachers' college was closed in 1955, she became a professor at Eötvös Loránd University, until her retirement in 1975. In 1976, she published Recursive Functions in Computer Theory.

She was called Aunt Rózsa by generations of students and worked to increase opportunities in mathematics for girls and young women. She died on the eve of her birthday in 1977. In her eulogy, her student Ferenc Genzwein recalled that she taught "that facts are only good for bursting open the wrappings of the mind and spirit" in the "endless search for truth."

From: Rozsa Peter


Other Resources

[ Home | Programs | References | Other Countries Programs | History of Women in computing | Contact Details ]

Maintained by : K. E. Petrie