We Celebrate Women’s History Month
March was designated as National Women’s History month by the U.S. Congress 35 years ago, but American women have long fought for equal footing throughout the nation’s history. The United States is and has been full of trailblazers in the fight for equality from Abigail Adams imploring her husband to “remember the ladies” when envisioning a government for the American colonies, to suffragists like Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton fighting for the right to help elect officials for that government. It wasn’t until 2016 that a woman was chosen as a candidate to run that same government, when Hillary Clinton became the first female nominee for President by a major political party. It took four more years for Kamala Harris to become the first woman to hold the office of Vice President of the United States.
What about women in the workplace?
In 1972, Title IX was enacted to ensure: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” While the work environment in 2022 may be better than it once was, women are still fighting for equal pay and opportunity.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the male-dominated tech industry. The TrustRadius 2021 Women in Tech Report found that “72% of women in tech are regularly outnumbered by men in business meetings by at least a 2:1 ratio. 26% of women report being outnumbered by 5:1 or more.”
While there may not be as many women at the tech table, their contributions to the tech industry are immeasurable.
Here are just a handful of women who have helped to develop technological advances that continue to shape our lives.
Ada Lovelace is widely considered to be the world’s first computer programmer. In the 1840’s, Lovelace wrote an algorithm designed to be executed by a theoretical machine. That’s right. She wrote a computer program before an actual computer existed. Lovelace also had the foresight to envision using machines beyond mathematical computation and towards the generation of art forms like music and graphics.
Edith Clarke was the first woman to receive an M.S. in electrical engineering at MIT in 1919. She later developed The Clarke Calculator, a graphical device that provided solutions for transmitting electrical power longer distances. Her work was essential to the development of the power grid. Think of her as you are enjoying the use of multiple electronic devices without interruption.
The ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) Programmers
Betty Jean Jennings Bartik, Kathleen McNulty, Mauchly Antonelli, Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum, Frances Bilas Spence, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer and Frances Snyder Holberton were the women responsible for programming the first general-purpose computer in the 1940’s. While they were regularly photographed in front of the machines, they were often assumed to be “models” marketing the product. They were not recognized for the role they played in modern computing until decades later.
Grace Hopper developed both the first compiler and the first commercially produced computer in the United States. A Yale Ph.D. computer scientist, Hopper also created a computer language (FLOW-MATIC) in the 1950’s that was based on English key words rather than mathematical notations. Ever use COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language)? You have Hopper’s breakthroughs to thank.
Sister Mary Kenneth Keller
Sister Mary Kenneth Keller was the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in Computer Science. While studying at Dartmouth in the 1960’s, Keller was part of the team that developed BASIC programming language (Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code.) BASIC coding helped to open the world of programming to a wider audience beyond scientists and mathematicians.
Marian Croak pioneered Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) in 1973 allowing the internet to be used as a telephone or videophone. Most of us engage regularly with her efforts through video conferencing.
Susan Kare was responsible for developing Macintosh’s graphics in the 1980’s. She also created the command key symbol and typeface Chicago. Her clean design shaped the look of Apple’s graphical interface and informed modern graphic design.
Carol Shaw is one of the first women game designers. Her groundbreaking work at Activision in the 1980’s yielded the famous shooter game, River Raid, which redefined movement in video games by giving a player-controlled jet the ability to accelerate or decelerate. Gamers rejoice!
These are only a handful of women who contributed to the history of technology.
While they may be under appreciated or even virtually unknown, they each had an impact on how we live our lives today. From the first computer program to Teams meetings, we owe these women recognition for their contributions to technology and the development of tools that we use to live, work, and play.
History.com Editors. (2009, Oct 22). Abigail Adams urges husband to “remember the ladies.” History.com
Sullivan-Hasson, Elizabeth. (2021, March 8). TrustRadius 2021 Women ion Tech Report. Trustradius.com
Dice Staff. (2020, March 6). 13 Famous Women Who Changed Tech History Forever. Insights.dice.com
Sheppard, Alyson. (2013, Oct 13). Meet the ‘Refrigerator Ladies’ Who Programmed the ENIAC. Mentalfloss.com
Acevedo, Sophia. (2021, Feb 10). Black Women in History Who Made an Impact of Technology. Woz-u.com.