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)