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Photos: The women who created the technology industry

The original computer scientists

The first computer programmers and most celebrated mathematicians throughout history were women. In honor of Women's History Month, here are the oft-forgotten, influential tech pioneers. In this photo from 1946, two of the first programmers, Esther Gerston and Gloria Gordon work with the ENIAC computer. 

Image: U.S. Army

About

Lyndsey Gilpin is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She writes about the people behind some of tech's most creative innovations and in-depth features on innovation and sustainability.

31 comments
bgtaylor
bgtaylor

The dance of a thousand cuts!! Rather than take a broad and balanced look at the historical contributions of women in technology, far too many comments here are nit-picking details or worse, Ms. Gilpin's abilities as a journalist. Do I detect an above-average level of discomfort with the issue of women in science and technology? I think Leslie's work relates to the saying, that it's only journalism when somebody doesn't want to see it published... and everything else is just PR.

mgravel
mgravel

For a while, I am not able to use these presentations, neither the image thumbnails nor the arrows will let me scroll the story. Anybody has same issue? How can I resolve this? Thks in advance for some useful cues.

*bernie
*bernie

I think most people in the comments must be men. They are so ... f*cking boring (I know what I'm talking about as I'm one of them). Who cares a few mistakes, I'm pretty sure the greatest contribution of these women to society was already in being a women (so they didn't contribute to 99 percent of the world's biggest problems to begin with - like waging wars and abusing others). Being women they also contributed to the change of perception about what women can do. And if men were predominant in mathematics, science, technology, it is very likely also a bit because men were still so privileged at that time - and still today. So I will cut women some slack for that reason alone - it's still a very manly world to live in So what's here to complain about really? This article is simply inspiring. That's what its supposed to be I guess.

pliedtka
pliedtka

Wow. Maybe I can find some 6W6 GT RCA pentodes in these tube computers to fix my '53 RadioCraftsmen of Chicago amplifier - work of a Sydney Smith.

Silverhill
Silverhill

Madame Gilpin, could you please have these presentations' coding augmented so that they can be viewed in more than one browser?  (Internet Explorer is very widely used, of course, but other (and better) browsers have been out there for some years now.)  Thanks!

PensivePeter
PensivePeter

Note that the original term "computer" actually referred to the women who interacted with the machines.

unitinsden
unitinsden

the overhype is because this is pc correct america with nothing but you go girl bs. all day everyday all the time....

remuda
remuda

Perhaps the answer to the question this article has elicited lies somewhere in the following:

The senior editor and staff writer herein are both women.  Pursuant to the answer are these "tidbites":

http://www.computerhope.com/issues/ch000984.htm

http://www.ask.com/question/who-invented-the-first-programmable-computer

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/When_did_the_first_computer_get_invented#slide=2&article=When_did_the_first_computer_get_invented

http://www.buzzle.com/articles/who-invented-the-first-computer.html

The earliest computer "geeks" and their "computers" would have crushed "bugs" to oblivion with gears and levers.  WWII was engaged and won with the help of Tom Flower's 1943 "Colossus", an "electric computer".  The later 1946 ENIAC "electronic vacuum-tube" version was thoughtfully de-bugged by a gal geek, it is suggested.

Reset.

smrau
smrau

Sorry, but this is very light weight article full of mistakes and misunderstandings. These women didn't "create the IT industry".


That's a shame, because there have been so many significant women in IT, almost all of whom are unknown. This article does them a disservice.


For example, the text on Anita Borg is pathetic. Anita did some truly important work in operating system design in the 1980s. In the 1990s, she worked hard to increase recognition of woman in IT, and to overcome the barriers stopping woman from using computers. Alas, she died way too young. Her memory is continued via conferences and various awards.


So why is none of this mentioned? The article is a "10 whatevers" fluff piece, rather than something accurate and inspiring.


Lyndsey, I'd be happy to fact check your article for you.


Stephen.

augenste
augenste

Thank you for this revealing article. I have 2 degrees in CS/CIS, am a woman, and have worked in the field for many years and yet knew very little of this history. It's a shame these women aren't better known. Thanks for shining some light on them...and enlightening me as well.

Zzznorch
Zzznorch

I was lucky enough to meet Grace Hopper (back when she was still a Commodore and in uniform) back at a small local IEEE meeting back in 1985.  I still have some "microseconds" that she gave out.  It was a wonderful lecture and I was rather shocked that when I told my fellow IT employees the next morning where I had been and they were like "hopper who"?  That told me immediately that they were not serious computer science people.

One thing I remember vividly was Commodore Hopper's prescient statement that parallel computing would be the wave of the future (this was 1985 mind you).  I recall the statement she made that when a farmer plows a field and his ox is not strong enough to do the job he doesn't buy a bigger ox.  He gets a second ox.  She equated that with adding CPU's to handle the extra work.

therende
therende

I believe the photo of Margaret Knight is someone else entirely, Hair, makeup & blouse are typical of a woman from the 1940's rather than the 1870's

st13-jhw
st13-jhw

What about Admiral Grace Hopper?  She was programming the ENIAC in 1943.  And, she invented the term "bug", among other things.

Suresh Mukhi
Suresh Mukhi

Anita Borg? Seriously? She's into technology. Anybody who is into Star Trek would get the irony in that. :)

glenn
glenn

"... most celebrated mathematicians throughout history were women."


I disagree with the ambiguous assertion "most celebrated." If by "most celebrated" you mean best known, I know of no female mathematician as celebrated (well-know) as Euclid, Pythagoras, and a host of other ancient Greek mathematicians. I submit that you lead sentence would be better phrased as "least celebrated." That would be a more valid premise for your discussion of a female mathematicians who have been "oft-forgotten."


If, on the other hand, you meant, that female mathematicians generally have been better known than male mathematicians throughout history, I believe that assertion is simply false.

elleno
elleno

@BernardLDon't you sometimes get tired of being politically correct? Reading your post is like tasting an  over sweet candy


Fact is almost all great mathematicians and technologists are men.  Men tend to have wider intellectual variations than women - there are more geniuses and more idiots among men.  Deal with it. It is a genetic trait.


A woman does not need to be great at mathematics or technology or logic to be a great women.  Of course, there were women who had tremendous contributions, but there is something pathetic about describing "Margaret Knight is considered the most famous 19th century inventor".  Really? I can think of a few inventions of the 19th century that are probably more impressive.

You may patronizingly consider the comments (from men) as "so....f*cking boring". But here's a news flash. Yours is worse: politically correct and without balls.  Guess you must be one of those new fangled  'metrosexual hipsters' that look like men, but act like women.  


Most normal men I know would know what to do with you.......and it wouldn't be nice.

davrays
davrays

@BernardLIts nice to have "simply inspiring" articles, but we here are all detail oriented technical people, and dealing with those "f*cking boring" details is part of our work and our nature. A technical mind finds "bugs" and disinformation immediately as soon as he reads that, and reports them for them to be fixed.

If the same article was posted in marketing/sales folks' forum, it would only get kudos, without anyone noticing serious disinformation (you call it "few mistakes") it provides.

Phil689
Phil689

@pliedtka  

…nope, they used 6SN7’s, 6L7's, 6SJ7's, 6SA7's, 6AC7's, also 6L6’s and 6V6’s as line amps

h3driver
h3driver

@Zzznorch The lengths of wire that she typically handed out represented the distance that an electromagnetic wave travels in a NANOSECOND, not a microsecond.

TRgscratch
TRgscratch

@glenn    Like "most often mentioned on a 'least-mentioned' list"

davrays
davrays

@glenn:) You're right, there are too many dubious sentences in this article. See another strange sentence: "Margaret Knight is considered the most famous 19th century inventor.". THE MOST?? "Is considered by whom? By author of this article? What about Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla and many other famous inventors working in18th century..? Are they less famous? Really?

That is very good idea to remind us about those great women, but why all this over-hype?

TRgscratch
TRgscratch

@h3driver @Zzznorch   I have one, too.  It's 10 cm long.  I remember her describing how long (how many pieces of wire) it takes to get to a satellite

Silverhill
Silverhill

@TRgscratch If your wire is only 10 cm long, you got shortchanged...that's only 1/3 of a nanosecond's worth.