Annals through the Years

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Annals through the Years

The Women of ENIAC, W. Barkley Fritz, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, July-September 1996, pp. 13–28

The Annals broke new ground with a special issue focused on women in computing in fall 1996. Despite the early and continuing role women played in the development and use of computing systems, nearly all the historical literature to the time of this special issue had focused on the work and contributions of men. The issue not only details women’s leadership on pioneering computing projects and institutions (such as ENIAC and the National Bureau of Standards), but also explores the challenges women faced advancing their careers and constructions of gender in artificial intelligence.

This particular article, on “The Women of ENIAC,” has been particularly influential to understanding and inspiring subsequent studies of pioneering women on this seminal computer development and programming effort. It introduces and broadly contextualizes the contributions of the women working on the ENIAC project. The bulk of the article consists of first-person stories from ten of these women, many of whom were instrumental to early ENIAC programming: Ruth Rauschenberger (Ammlung), Lila Todd (Butler), Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Anonelli, Frances Elizabeth (Betty) Snyder (Holberton), Betty Jean Jennings (Bartik), Marlyn Wescoff (Meltzer), Frances Bilas (Spence), Home McAllister (Reitwiesner), Marie Bierstein (Malone), and Willa Wyatt Sigmund. Those interested in women and computing history, including the analysis of gender and computing, are also encouraged to read Gender Codes: Why Women Are Leaving Computing, edited by Thomas J. Misa and published by the IEEE Computer Society Press/Wiley (2010).

Computers vs. the Human Race, Harry Polachek, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, October–December 1996, p. 60

In this fascinating and very short anecdote, Harry Polachek recounts the work of two mathematicians at the Applied Mathematics Laboratory of the U.S. Naval Ship Research and Development Center at Carderock, Maryland. John W. Wrench, Jr. and Daniel Shanks used an IBM 7090 computer to calculate pi to 100,000 decimal places for the first time. Polachek arranged for a bound copy of the output to be donated to the Smithsonian Institution. The anecdote concludes with an interesting parable on humans and computers, as told by the chairman of the donation ceremony honoring Dr. Shanks and Dr. Wrench.

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