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10 Women Who Contributed to the History of Computer Science


10 Women Who Contributed to the History of Computer Science

March 31, 2019

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by Angela Bourassa

Since before computers even existed, women have been contributing to their development. Here is a (far from comprehensive) list of some of the most influential and famous women in the field of computer science.

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper

Born in 1906, Grace Hopper got her Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale and was a professor of mathematics at Vassar before attempting to enlist in the Navy during World War II. She was rejected, so she enlisted in the Navy Reserves and became one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer. She also invented one of the first compiler related tools and is credited with popularizing the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which helped lead to the development of COBOL. The USS Hopper is named after her.

Commodore Grace M. Hopper, USNR Official portrait photograph | Naval History and Heritage Command

Carol Shaw

Born in 1955, Carol Shaw was one of the first female game developers at Atari. She created the game 3-D Tic-Tac-Toe and was considered the "go-to gal" for working out the trickiest programming problems for other developers. Later in her career, Carol moved to Activision and created the game River Raid. In 2017, she won the Industry Icon Award at The Game Awards. She's currently enjoying her retirement in California.

The ENIAC Programmers

The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) was one of the first general-purpose computers. Designed for the Army by a group of talented men, the "Giant Brain" could be programmed to perform a wide range of tasks, but the task of actually mapping a program into the machine was incredibly complex and usually took weeks. Six women were picked from a group of 200 female "computers" employed by the University of Pennsylvania to program ENIAC -- programming was considered "women's work." Those women were Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Wescoff, Fran Bilas and Ruth Lichterman. For a time, historians mistook the women as models posing with ENIAC in pictures, but they each contributed immensely to the debugging and improvement of the computer.

Eniac programmers Betty Jennings (Left) and Frances Bilas (Right) | US Army Photo

Evelyn Boyd Granville

Evelyn Boyd Granville received her PhD in mathematics from Yale in 1949, making her only the second African American woman to earn the degree from an American school. Eventually, Evelyn took a job working for IBM as a computer programmer, and when IBM was contracted by NASA, Evelyn moved to Washington DC to work on projects for the Apollo program. To this day, Evelyn remains a strong advocate for women in tech.

Ada Lovelace

No list of women in computer science would be complete without the person known as the first ever computer programmer. The daughter of Lord Byron, her parents split up just months after she was born and Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, was raised by her mathematically gifted mother, Lady Wentworth. While working with Charles Babbage on his Analytical Engine, Ada wrote what is widely considered to be the first algorithm designed to be carried out by a machine in her notes. She was in her early twenties at the time.

Portrait of Ada Lovelace

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