Celebrating Computing Women, Part I

Today we begin posting a series of biographies on female pioneers of the computer and gaming industry written by volunteer blogger, Heather Elizabeth Ross. We hope you enjoy these accounts of the achievements of the women without whom you probably couldn’t read this!

Augusta Ada Byron Lovelace (1815-1852): Prophet of the Computer age” & First Computer Programmer

Miss Augusta Ada King was born on December 10, 1815, the only child of poet Lord Byron and Anne Isabella Milbanke. Byron and Milbanke divorced and he left England permanently, leaving Ada to be raised by her mother. Dubbed the “princess of parallelograms” by her ex-husband, Milbanke was a patron and coworker of mathematician, Charles Babbage. Ada was rigorously tutored in math and sciences to counteract any paternal tendencies.

In 1834, Ada observed Babbage’s work on the analytical engine and she soon became a contributing expert on the machine. When in 1843 Luigi Menabrea wrote a summary of Charles Babbage’s analytical engine in French, Ada comprehensively translated it, including her own notes with encouragement from Babbage. Ada’s publication is widely considered to be the first algorithm intended to be processed by a machine, thus making Ada the first computer programmer.

Ada Lovelace Day was founded by psychologist Penelope Lockwood to recognize women in science, technology, engineering, and math. The Ada Lovelace Award was established by the Association for Women in Computing in 1978. In 1980 the Department of Defense named its programming language “ADA” in her honor.The British Computer Society now has awarded a medal in her name and holds annual competitions in her honor. She died in 1852 of cancer at the age of 36.

The Ladies of ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer): “Computors”

Kay McNulty, Marlyn Wescoff, Fran Bilas, Ruth Lichterman, Adele Goldstine and Betty Snyder Jennings were the first “computors” who worked on ENIAC, the world’s first electronic digital computer. Housed at Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Engineering, ENIAC’s purpose was to calculate ballistic firing tables during World War II. Holding the job title of “computor,” the ladies determined the correct sequence of steps to complete the calculations for each problem and to set up the ENIAC by maneuvering 3,000 switches and 80 tons of hardware to program the ENIAC by hand.

Adele Goldstine and Betty Jennings were instrumental in programming ENIACs stored program. Goldstine wrote ENIAC’s original technical manual. Their contributions led to the first software application and the first programming classes.The ladies of ENIAC were inducted into the WITI Hall of Fame in 1997. A documentary on the women titled Refrigerator Ladies: The Untold Story of the ENIAC Programmers has been planned.

2 Responses to “Celebrating Computing Women, Part I”

  1. Janee says:

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  2. NWHM says:

    Janee,

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