13 Famous Women Who Changed Tech History Forever

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Women of ENIAC: Pioneers

The day before it debuted, the world’s first general-purpose computer failed to work. It was up to seven women to stay late and make the beast, dubbed ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) operational. They were:

  • Betty Jean Jennings Bartik
  • Kathleen McNulty
  • Mauchly Antonelli
  • Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum
  • Frances Bilas Spence
  • Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer
  • Frances Snyder Holberton

The system was neither small nor simple, weighing in at 30 tons and taking up a 1,500-square-foot basement. It came equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors, and 5 million hand-soldered joints. Considering its supposed aptitude with calculating ballistics trajectories, the need for it to work was great—the United States was mired deep in World War II.

“People never recognized, they never acted as though we knew what we were doing,” Betty Bartik would say later. “I mean, we were in a lot of pictures.”

It would take a few decades before these female computing pioneers received due recognition. In 1997, they were inducted into the Women in Technology International (WITI) Hall of Fame. In 2014, Walter Isaacson featured them in Innovators with the likes of Steve Jobs and Nikola Tesla. And last year saw the release of a documentary called the “Eniac Programmers Project,” which detailed how these women figured out how to program the machine.

After the war, many of the women of ENIAC went on to help “Amazing Grace” Hopper develop UNIVAC, the world’s first commercial computer.

Next Up: Grace Hopper (click here or below)

11 Responses to “13 Famous Women Who Changed Tech History Forever”

    • Sophie Wilson was born Robert Wilson…a transwoman who started a career as a man should not take a space or attention away from a woman who was born female and socialized and raised female.

      • As a matter of fact, I am making a website for a webdev college course highlighting contributions of ALL WOMEN past, present and future and I have been looking for transwomen to feature on my site. I appreciate your bigotry because it just lead me to someone I can add. 🙂

      • I agree. A trans woman who grew up socialized as a MALE did not suffer the setbacks of a society putting him in “his place.” His contributions were already being recognized before he became a female. To equate his “struggle” for recognition and acceptance is to compare apples to oranges.

        To grow up socialized as a female effectively EXCLUDES one from all STEM-related expectations, and further INHIBITS, if not downright IMPEDES her being taken seriously in male-dominated fields. I know it because I lived it! He never did.

  1. False. The current climate of women in the tech industry is all-inclusive and we welcome transwomen. There is no place for discrimination in a field dedicated to advancement both in technology and social justice. Take a seat.

  2. ianpenfold

    what about Margeret Hamilton, who wrote most of the software for the 1969 apollo lunar landing, and invented the job title ‘software engineer’ which is still used today.

  3. Jim Austin

    The ladies who programmed the ENIAC didn’t use any programming languages with text editors and compilers. They were reportedly given blueprints of the machine and told to program it.