Without Women Computing As We Know It Would Not Exist


Ada Lovelace(10.12,1815 – 27.11,1852)

Ada LovelaceAugusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace was an English mathematician and writer ,chiefly known for her work on the Analytical Engine. Her notes on the engine include what is recognized as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. Because of this, she is often described as the world’s first inventor of scientific computing.

Ada  was the daughter of a brief marriage between the Romantic poet Lord Byron and Anne Isabelle Milbanke, who separated from Byron just a month after Ada was born. She never met her father (who died in Greece in 1823) and was raised by her mother. Her life was an apotheosis of struggle between emotion and reason, subjectivism and objectivism, poetics and mathematics, ill health and bursts of energy.

Lady Byron wished her daughter to be unlike her poetical father, and she saw to it that Ada received tutoring in mathematics and music, as disciplines to counter dangerous poetic tendencies. But Ada’s complex inheritance became apparent as early as 1828, when she produced the design for a flying machine. It was mathematics that gave her life its wings.

One of the gentlemanly scientists of the era, Charles Babbage, Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge,   became Ada’s lifelong friend. The gentleman was known as the inventor of the Difference Engine, an elaborate calculating machine that operated by the method of finite differences. Ada met Babbage in 1833, when she was just 17, and they began a voluminous correspondence on the topics of mathematics, logic, and ultimately all subjects.

Ada died of cancer in 1852, at the age of 37, and was buried beside the father she never knew. Her contributions to science were resurrected only recently, but many new biographies attest to the fascination of Babbage’s “Enchantress of Numbers.”

Hedy Lamarr(9.11.1914 – 19.1.2000)

Hedy Lamarr(Although better known for her Silver Screen exploits, HedyLamarr was a pioneer in the field of wireless communications following her emigration to the United States.

The international beauty icon, along with co-inventor George Anthiel, developed a “Secret Communications System” to help combat the Nazis in World War II. By manipulating radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception, the invention formed an unbreakable code to prevent classified messages from being intercepted by enemy personnel.

Lamarr and Anthiel received a patent in 1941, but the enormous significance of their invention was not realized until decades later. It was first implemented on naval ships during the Cuban Missile Crisis and subsequently emerged in numerous military applications. But most importantly, the “spread spectrum” technology that Lamarr helped to invent would galvanize the digital communications boom, forming the technical backbone that makes cellular phones, fax machines and other wireless operations possible.

As is the case with many of the famous women inventors, Lamarr received very little recognition of her innovative talent at the time, but recently she has been showered with praise for her groundbreaking invention. In 1997, she and George Anthiel were honored with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Pioneer Award. And later in the same year, Lamarr became the first female recipient of the BULBIE™ Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, a prestigious lifetime accomplishment prize for inventors that is dubbed “The Oscar™ of Inventing.”

Proving she was much more than just another pretty face, Lamarr shattered stereotypes and earned a place among the 20th century’s most important women inventors. She truly was a visionary whose technological acumen was far ahead of its time.

Top Secret Rosies

4_top_secret_rosiesBack before Microsoft, IBM, and Apple, the word “computer” referred to a person who computes. During World War II, the military relied on these “human computers” to calculate ballistics projections. In this time of national crisis, when women took on roles outside the home to help the war effort, Female mathematicians and scientists were secretly recruited to do ballistics research and crack codes during WWII. Many of these young women were Jewish.

Towards the end of the war, the military’s focus shifted to the ENIAC, the first electronic general computer. The ENIAC was developed by two male engineers, but six women computers were tapped to become its first programmers. As it turned out, programming the machine was a great deal more complicated than they expected. It was the female programmers, not the developers, who actually made the machine work. Naturally, only the male engineers were photographed and interviewed by journalists. The work of the ENIAC’s female programmers was never given credit for their contributions.

Because of the top secret nature of their work, the female computers of WWII – the code breakers, ballistics calculators, and programmers – never received recognition for their contribution to the war effort. This film “Top Secret Rosies” finally brought their experience to light and gave these “top secret Rosies” the opportunity to tell their stories.

Grace Murray Hopper (9.12,1906 – 1.1,1992)

Grace Murray HopperGrace Brewster Murray was a BA in mathematics and physicsgraduate from Vassar College. She joined the Vassar faculty. While an instructor at Vassar, she continued her studies in mathematics at Yale University, where she earned an MA in 1930 and a PhD in 1934. She was one of four women in a doctoral program of ten students, and her doctorate in mathematics was a rare accomplishment in its day.

Grace Murray Hopper was an American computer scientist and United States Navy rear admiral. A pioneer in the field, she was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, and developed the first compiler for a computer programming language. She conceptualized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages. She is credited with popularizing the term “debugging” for fixing computer glitches (inspired by an actual moth removed from the computer). Owing to the breadth of her accomplishments and her naval rank, she is sometimes referred to as “Amazing Grace”.The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) is named for her, as was the Cray XE6 “Hopper” supercomputer at NERSC.

When Admiral Grace Murray Hopper died, the world lost an inspiration to women and scientists everywhere. Her outstanding contributions to computer science benefited academia, industry, and the military. Her work spanned programming languages, software development concepts, compiler verification, and data processing. Her early recognition of the potential for commercial applications of computers, and her leadership and perseverance in making this vision a reality, paved the way for modern data processing.