Women "computers" of World War II


19 Responses to “Women "computers" of World War II”

  1. Rayonic says:

    Later, the heard they were thought of as models, placed there to show off the machine.

    Well that’s their own fault for looking so pretty. (j/k)

    Though if I were a sexist army general, I’d have either asked “isn’t hiring models a waste of money?” or “hey, are those models coming to the celebration party?”

  2. Vanwall says:

    Sebastian. Nay-it-sah-bess.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I have to say this or lose all of my copy-editing street cred: “Later, the heard they were thought of as models” probably ought to read “Later, THEY heard they were thought of…”.
    Okay, I feel better now.

  4. Anonymous says:

    legendary physicist Richard Feynman managed similar teams of people at adding machines during the Manhattan Project.

    He noticed backlogs that would occur when one result was waiting for information from another process, so he reorganized their workflow so those waiting could work on other equations – and created the concept of parallel processing.

  5. Dr_Black says:

    This looks really interesting and is similar to the story of around 6000 women who worked at Bletchley Park during WW2. We made a short video about them: The Women of Station X http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/content/video-example.rhtm

    I’ve been campaigning to save Bletchley Park for several years now as it is underfunded, see http://www.savingbletchleypark.org It would be great to link up in some way to the US Rosies, 300 US intelligence also worked at Bletchley Park.

    Colossus: the world’s first programmable digital computer, invented by Tommy Flowers was used at Bletchley Park as part of the codebreaking effort. The work done there was said by Eisenhower to have shortened the war by two years, potentially saving 22 million lives.

    I recently found out about Joan Clarke, a major codebreaker at Bletchley Park who worked in Hut 8 with Alan Turing and was also engaged to him at one point. I would love to know more about her.

    If anyone is interested in knowing more about Bletchley Park please do get in touch http://www.sueblack.co.uk/contact.html and I’m @Dr_Black on Twitter.

  6. musicman says:

    Sadie Plant has a great book about women in computing (somewhat theoretical) calle Zeros and Ones: Digital Women and the New Technoculture




  7. tomadams says:

    There’s a good book on this topic, When Computers Were Human http://www.amazon.com/When-Computers-Human-David-Grier/dp/0691133824

  8. Frank_in_Virginia says:

    Cryptonomicon is a 1999 novel by American author Neal Stephenson. The novel follows the exploits of two groups of people in two different time periods. The first is World War II-era Allied codebreakers and tactical-deception operatives affiliated with the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. The second narrative is …

  9. Robert says:

    On the eniacprogrammers.org site:

    “None of us girls were ever introduced…we were just programmers.”
    Kay Mauchly Antonelli, ENIAC Programmer, The Computers: The Untold Story of the Remarkable Women Who Programmed the ENIAC (Documentary Preview), 2001

    That sounds strangely familiar.

  10. semiotix says:

    At Bletchley Park, they crammed these female operators into Quonset huts with blacked-out windows. The heat from so many tabletop electro-mechanical adding machines in such a small space forced them to work in their underwear.

    Anyway, there’s your nerd porn moment for this Wednesday. Mmm, ladies in their underwear. OOOH, VINTAGE ELECTRO-MECHANICAL COMPUTERS!!!

  11. Anonymous says:

    This is precisely why the new Drupal 7 default theme is called… Bartik! =)


  12. Anonymous says:

    Ah, sexism. Vitally important women were thought of as eye candy, while the article kind of glosses over the fact that the reason there were there is because the mores of the time (and, often times, today) dictate that men are the ones to be sent to die. I hate society.

  13. Antinous / Moderator says:

    My mother, who was a minor math savant, was a Bright Young Thing during the war. She turned it into a forty-plus year career working on projects like the DEW Line. Nobody treated her like a model although, at 5′-9″, she was an inch taller than the average man of the day.

  14. Marcelo says:

    The movie is available on Netflix instant for anyone who wants to see it. Just FYI.

  15. Anonymous says:

    I believe they were called “computors” (people who did computing) and not “computers”.

  16. DrPretto says:

    Thanks Maggie, great story. Those women should be awarded with a medal or prize.
    What I found interesting is how those who build ENIAC didn’t knew how to make it work? Unless there was a mechanical damage that they didn’t knew how to repair, but women could.

    • Rayonic says:

      Or the designers knew the ENIAC would require a lot of manual programming and debugging, so they hired some people to do it?

  17. nthmost says:

    It’s always nice to see light shed on the reality of the first computer programmers, how they were pretty much all women, and how their work and contributions to computing were so badly underestimated.

    My grandmother, Kathleen Mauchly Antonelli, was among the ENIAC programmers. My grandfather was John Mauchly, the co-inventor thereof.

    My uncle Bill Mauchly and I set up a website about the ENIAC, if anybody out there is interested in more and deeper nerdity about this old oddball machine (which worked in DECIMAL, of all things).

    Find it here: http://the-eniac.com

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