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The Women of ENIAC

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129944D
Original Publication Date: 1996-Sep-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-07
Document File: 25 page(s) / 90K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

W. BARKLEY FRITZ: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

Many young women college graduates were involved in various ways with ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer) during the 1942- 1955 period covering ENIAC's pre-development, development, and 10-year period of its operational usage. ENIAC, as is well-known, was the first general purpose electronic digital computer to be designed, built, and successfully used. After its initial use for the Manhattan Project in the fall of 1945 and its public demonstration in February 1946, it evolved during 1947-1948 to become the first operating stored-program computer. This paper relates the stories of some of the ENIAC women: their background before ENIAC, how they became involved, what they did, how they felt about what they were doing, and, briefly, what they did after their ENIAC experience.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1996 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

The Women of ENIAC

W. BARKLEY FRITZ

A group of young women college graduates involved with the ENMC are identified. As a result of their education, intelligence, as well as their being at the right place and at the right time, these young women were able to perform important computer work. Many reamed to use effectively "the machine that changed the world" to assist in solving some of the important scientific problems of the time. Ten of them report on their background and experiences. It is now appropriate that these women be given recognition for what they did as pioneers" of the Age of Computing.

Introduction

Many young women college graduates were involved in various ways with ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer) during the 1942- 1955 period covering ENIAC's pre- development, development, and 10-year period of its operational usage. ENIAC, as is well- known, was the first general purpose electronic digital computer to be designed, built, and successfully used. After its initial use for the Manhattan Project in the fall of 1945 and its public demonstration in February 1946, it evolved during 1947-1948 to become the first operating stored-program computer. This paper relates the stories of some of the ENIAC women: their background before ENIAC, how they became involved, what they did, how they felt about what they were doing, and, briefly, what they did after their ENIAC experience.

During the time period covered by this paper, 1942-1955, women were seldom involved in the design of hardware. However, both men and women were employed as computers (in this era, a computer was a person who did computing). In my 1994 Annals paper [1], in a section titled ENIAC People, I included the names of 23 of the women who were in various ways associated with ENIAC. Many more women were employed as computers, developing the firing and bombing tables needed during World War II -- the specific application that led to the contract by the Army Ordnance Department to the Moore School of Electrical Engineering of the University of Pennsylvania to design and build ENIAC. Several men originally involved as civilian computers by the Army were drafted. The job of computer was critical to the war effort, and women were regarded as capable of doing the work more rapidly and accurately than men. By 1943, and for the balance of World War II, essentially all computers were women as were their direct supervisors.

Six of these women computers became the original group of ENIAC programmers. Goldstine [2] identifies these women as the Misses Kathleen McNulty, Frances Bilas, Betty Jean Jennings (incorrectly identified by Goldstine as Elizabeth Jennings), Elizabeth Snyder, Ruth Lichterman, and Marlyn Wescoff (incorrectly listed by Goldstine as Marilyn Wescoff). Ma...