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The Age of Female Computers

Stashed in: Women in Tech, History of Tech!

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"In the history of computing, the humbler levels of scientific work were open, even welcoming, to women. Indeed, by the early twentieth century computing was thought of as women’s work and computers were assumed to be female. Respected mathematicians would blithely approximate the problem-solving horsepower of computing machines in “girl-years” and describe a unit of machine labor as equal to one “kilo-girl.” In this light, one can surely understand the desire to correct past orthodoxies about the female mind with new ones. But even as we rightly decry a past when even the most talented women were prevented from pursuing math and science in the most prestigious posts, we should remember — and honor — the crucial role of women in advancing mathematical and scientific knowledge one detailed calculation at a time."

Women programmers were very popular for one of the first computers, ENIAC:

ENIAC's six primary programmers, Kay McNultyBetty JenningsBetty SnyderMarlyn WescoffFran Bilas and Ruth Lichterman, not only determined how to input ENIAC programs, but also developed a deep understanding of ENIAC's inner workings. The programmers debugged problems by crawling inside the massive structure to find bad joints and bad tubes. Betty Jennings later recalled, "Since we knew both the application and the machine, we learned to diagnose troubles as well as, if not better than, the engineer."

They were following in the footsteps of Grace Hopper:

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