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Issue No.04 - October-December (1997 vol.19)
pp: 18-27
ABSTRACT
<p><it>Gertrude Blanch can be viewed as either the last and most important leader of human computers or one of the first numerical analysts for electronic computers. From 1938 to 1948, she was the technical director of the Mathematical Tables Project, the largest and most sophisticated of the human computing groups. During that period, she organized the literature of computing and numerical analysis. After the Mathematical Tables Project became the Computation Laboratory of the National Bureau of Standards, Blanch went on to develop numerical analysis for the early computers, working first for the Institute for Numerical Analysis, next for the computer division of Consolidated Engineering (later ElectroData), and finally for the Air Force's Aeronautical Research Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio.</it></p>
CITATION
David Alan Grier, "Gertrude Blanch of the Mathematical Tables Project", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol.19, no. 4, pp. 18-27, October-December 1997, doi:10.1109/85.627896
REFERENCES
1. M. Marcus and A. Akera in the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 18, No. 1, Spring 1996, p. 20.
2. P. Ceruzzi, "When Computers Were Human," Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 13, no. 3, p. 237.
3. The WPA began operation in May 1936 with the name Works Progress Administration. It changed its name to Works Projects Administration in July 1939. See J.C. Brown, Public Relief.New York: Octagon, 1971, p. 197. Similarly, the original name of the Mathematical Tables Project was The Project to Re-Compute Mathematical Tables. This name was never used once the project became operational.
4. D.A. Grier, "The New York Mathematical Tables Project: The Reluctant Start of the Computing Era." Unpublished.
5. There are three articles treating the history of the Mathematical Tables Project. The most mathematically complete is A. Lowan,, "The Computational Laboratory at the National Bureau of Standards," Scripta Mathematica, vol. 15, pp. 33-63, 1949. It contains a complete bibliography of all tables published as of 1949 but does little to put the group in context. A short history that puts the group in a bigger context is: H. Salzer, "New York Mathematical Tables Project,"Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 52-53, 1989. A third article is attributed jointly to Blanch and Ida Rhodes: G. Blanch and I. Rhodes, "Table Making at N.B.S.,"Studies in Numerical Analysis: Papers in Honors of Cornelius Lanczos, B.R. Scaife, ed. London: Academic Press, 1974. This last article is almost certainly written by Rhodes, as no reference remains to it in Blanch's papers, and Blanch and Rhodes were close friends. It is at variance with the archival record in many points, including the size of the project, the number of the technical staff, and the location and origins of the project. Nonetheless, it does give the feeling for how the Mathematical Tables Project operated. Blanch and Rhodes are lead subjects in D. Gürer, "Women's Contributions to Early Computing at the National Bureau of Standards,"Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 29-35, 1996. A picture with this article is incorrectly identified as being of Blanch.
6. Letter from L.J. Comrie, member, British Association for the Advancement of Science Tables Committee to Wallace Eckert, member, National Research Council Committee on the Bibliography of Mathematical Tables and Other Aids to Computation, 29 Aug. 1942, M.T.A.C. File, Wallace Eckert Collection, Charles Babbage Institute. About 35 errata to Mathematical Tables Project volumes were published inMathematical Tables and Other Aids to Computationbetween 1943 and 1952. All of the surviving members of the project—Abraham Hillman (interview September 1996), Irene Stegun (interview March 1995), and Herbert Salzar (interview February 1995)—claimed that some of the volumes were indeed error-free.
7. Letter from George Danzig to John von Neumann, 28 Apr. 1948, miscellaneous correspondence "D," John von Neumann Papers, Library of Congress. Von Neumann marked the letter, attempting to determine how quickly the ENIAC might complete the computation.
8. Letter to Oswald Veblen from Mina Rees, 9 June 1945, correspondence, records of the Applied Mathematics Panel, series NC 138, Record Group 227, National Archives and Records Administration.
9. She Americanized her name in February 1932 (Order of City Court of Kings County, Brooklyn, New York, 9 Feb. 1932) because of persistent discrimination based on her last name. She was called Gertrude in high school. The name Blanch was the English version of her mother's birth name.
10. Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service Certificate, 16 Mar. 1966, Blanch papers, Stern Family collection. Most family members dispute this date, believing that she was born on 25 Dec. 1898. But all official decisions regarding Blanch's career and retirement were based on the February 1897 date.
11. "Field Mathematician Gets Top Job Rating," Dayton Daily News, Mar.2 1962 and interview with Anne Willen, niece of Gertrude Blanch, 27 July 1996.
12. Interview with Michael Stern, 1991, Stern Family Collection.
13. R. Dean, "Woman Scientist Honored," Washington Evening Star, Mar.7 1962.
14. The University of Chicago granted PhDs in mathematics to Anna Pell Wheeler (1883-1966) in 1909, Pauline Sperry (1885-1967) in 1916, and Mina Rees (1902-) in 1931. Women of Mathematics: A Bibliographic Sourcebook, L. Grinstein and P. Campbell, eds. New York: Greenwood Press, 1987. The University of Michigan started an undergraduate program in applied mathematics in 1906 and actively recruited women. "Report of the Department of Mathematics," Papers of Harry Burns Hutchinson, Bentley Library, University of Michigan.
15. As to be expected, information about most of these mathematicians is limited. For Anna Pell Wheller and Mina Rees, see Grinstein and Campbell, op. cit. Charlotte Krampe was the chief computer at the U.S. Naval Observatory until 1945 and was a member of the National Research Council. (Membership list of the National Research Council on Mathematical Tables and Other Aids to Computation, 1940, Wallace Eckert Files, National Academy of Science files on Committee for Mathematical Tables and Other Aids to Computation, Charles Babbage Institute.) Dr. Irene Price worked in the computation laboratory at Indiana University and seems to have had a role similar to the one Blanch had with the Mathematical Tables Project. (H.T. Davis, Tables of the Higher Mathematical Functions, vol. 1. Bloomington, Ind.: Principia Press, 1933.) Gertrude Cox (1900-1978) was a professor of statistics at North Carolina State University. (S. Stinnett, "Women in Statistics,"Amer. Statistician, vol. 44, no. 2, pp. 74-80, May 1990.) Catherine Baillio and Grace Hall were graduates of the University of Michigan's actuarial mathematics program who had substantial careers in industry. (Alumna Directory, 1950, Bentley Library, University of Michigan.)
16. New York City School Board of Education certificate, 14 Mar. 1966, Gertrude Blanch Papers, Stern Family collection.
17. Anne Willen, interview.
18. See the Artemas Martin Collection of Mathematical Tracts, Special Collections, Library of American University.
19. Blanch's library included Bennett, Corporation Accounting.New York: Ronald Press, 1919; Rosenthal,Technical Procedure in Exporting and Importing. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1922; and Mills,Statistical Methods. New York: Holt, 1924. Card file of book collection, Gertrude Blanch Papers, Stern Family Collection.
20. Anne Willen interview and New York City Directory, 1927.
21. L. Fine, The Souls of the Skyscrapers: Female Clerical Workers in Chicago, 1870-1930.Philadelphia: Temple, 1990.
22. Gertrude Blanch, interview with Henry Thatcher, 17 Mar. 1989, Stern Family Collection.
23. Records of Washington Square College, New York University Archives.
24. The woman was Agnes Baxter (1870-1917), Grinstein and Campbell, op. cit.
25. G. Blanch, "Properties of the Veneroni Transformation in S4," Amer. J. Mathematics, vol. 58, pp. 639-645, 1936. She extended this work in a second article, "The Veneroni Transformation in Sn,"Amer. J. Mathematics, vol. 59, pp. 783-786, 1937.
26. K. Black, "Math Whiz Scotches Idea Science No-Woman's Land," Dayton Daily News, Mar.16 1962.
27. Black, op. cit. Willen interview. Blanch interview with Thatcher, op. cit. Family lore claims that Blanch was offered an academic job in Arizona for the fall of 1936, but that the offer was withdrawn at the last minute after the school discovered her Jewish ancestry.
28. Blanch interview with Thatcher, op. cit.
29. D.A. Grier, "ENIAC, the Verb 'to Program' and the Introduction of Digital Computers," Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 18, pp. 64-67, 1996.
30. Report of the New York Project for the Computation of Mathematical Tables, Feb.28 1942, Records of the Mathematics Tables Project (765-97-3-10), Records of FERA, Record Group 69, National Archives and Records Administration.
31. Davis op. cit.
32. D.S. Howard, The W.P.A. and Federal Relief Policy, 2nd ed. New York: Da Capo Press, 1973.
33. Lowan op. cit.
34. Blanch and Thatcher interview, op. cit. Salzer interview.
35. Before it published the exponential tables, the Mathematical Tables Project published a table of the powers of integers. It was not professionally bound and received limited circulation.
36. G. Blanch, A.N. Lowan, R.E. Marshak, and H.A. Bethe, "The Internal Temperature Density Distribution of the Sun," J. Astrophysics, pp. 37-45, 1942.
37. Salzer, interview. Federal transcript of employment of Gertrude Blanch, Federal Employee Records Bureau, St. Louis, Mo.
38. Letter from L.J. Comrie to F.K. Ritchmyer, 9 Nov. 1933, Committee on the Bibliography of Mathematical Tables and Other Aids to Computation, Physical Science Division Records, National Academy of Sciences Archive.
39. The introduction to Davis's book of tables clearly indicates that he never had more than a half dozen computers working for him at any given time, though nearly 20 people contributed to the work. (Davis, op. cit.) Further information is found in R.W. Farebrother,A Memoir on the Life of Harold Thayer Davis (1892-1974), unpublished manuscript, H.T. Davis file, Northwestern University Archives.
40. Letter from Rear Admiral G.S. Bryan of the Naval Hydrographic Office to Charles Abernathy, acting director of the W.P.A., Records of the Mathematics Tables Project (765-97-3-10), Records of FERA, Record Group 69, National Archives and Records Administration.
41. Records of the Mathematical Tables Project 1943-1945, Records of Certain Consultants, Applied Math Panel Records 1942-1946, Record Group 227, National Archives and Records Administration.
42. See Monthly Reports, Records of the Mathematical Tables Project, Applied Math Panel Records 1942-1946, Record Group 227, National Archives.
43. A.N. Lowan, "Report on Math TableProject War Work," Dec. 1945, Records of the Mathematical Tables Project, Applied Math Panel Records 1942-1946, Record Group 227, National Archives.
44. Letter from Mina Rees to Arnold Lowan, 21 June 1945 "On the Evaluation of a Certain Integral," correspondence of the Applied Math Panel, Applied Math Panel Records 1942-1946, Record Group 227, National Archives and Records Administration.
45. Interview with Abraham Hillman, 18 Sept. 1996.
46. Letter from Warren Weaver, head of Applied Mathematics Panel, OSRD to Vannevar Bush, 17 Aug. 1945, Applied Mathematics Panel correspondence, Office of Scientific Research and Development Records, Record Group 227, National Archives and Records Administration.
47. Letter from Mina Rees to Oswald Veblen, 9 June 1945, correspondence of the Applied Math Panel, Applied Math Panel Records 1942-46, Record Group 227, National Archives.
48. G. Blanch, Notes for a Class on Numerical Analysis, taught 1943-1945 at the New York Mathematical Tables Project, Blanch Papers, Stern Family Collection.
49. Compare, for example, Davis, op. cit.
50. Blanch and Thatcher interview, op. cit.
51. W. Aspray and M. Gunderloy, "Early Computing and Numerical Analysis at the National Bureau of Standards," Annals of the History of Computing, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 3-12, 1989.
52. The last meeting in which she took part was in May 1950 at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Report Number 7 of the Association for Computing Machinery, file copy of reports of 1949, Berkeley Papers, Box 8, Folder 58, Charles Babbage Institute.
53. The three most visible women were Irene Stegun, Ruth Zucker, and Ida Rhodes. All moved to the Computation Lab in Washington, D.C. Ida Rhodes joined a bureau project to design programs to translate Russian into English (Gürer, op. cit.). Stegun held the position of assistant chief of the Computing Lab under three male directors until she became the interim director in 1965, just before it was terminated. (Report of the National Bureau of Standards, Jan. 1965.)
54. R.C. Cochrane, Measures for Progress: A History of the National Bureau of Standards.Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Commerce, 1966, p. 458.
55. M.R. Hestenes and J. Todd N.B.S.-I.N.A.-Institute for Numerical Analysis-UCLA 1947-1954, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C., 1991, p. 18. See also The Reports of the Applied Mathematics Laboratory, Sept. 1948, Brown University Library.
56. Letter from George Dantzig to John von Neumann, 28 Apr. 1948, John von Neumann papers, Library of Congress. See also G. Dantzig, "Reminiscences About the Origins of Linear Programming," Operations Research Letters, vol. 1, no. 2, Apr. 1982, pp. 43-48.
57. , Hestenes and Todd, op. cit, p. 19.
58. Cochrane, op. cit. p. 497.
59. Willen interview, op cit. Blanch and Thatcher, op. cit.
60. Blanch may have been one of those accused of communist associations, which would also explain her low profile. However, the evidence is difficult to assess. Prior to moving to California, she had lived in Brooklyn with her sister and brother-in-law, Fanny and Morris Levine, who were members of the Communist Party (Stern interview). Contradicting this evidence is the fact that Blanch worked for the Air Force for 20 years following her departure from the Institute for Numerical Analysis.
61. Footnote to G. Blanch, "A Review of 'Wave Functions of the Hydrogen Molecular Ion,' by D.R. Bates, K. Ledsham, and A.L. Stewart, Mathematical Tables and Other Aids to Computation, vol. 47, pp. 222-223, 1954.
62. Blanch and Thatcher interview, op. cit. See also "An Introduction to Consolidated Electrodymanics Corporation, a Subsidiary of Bell and Howell," 1960, Consolidated Electrodynamics File, Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota.
63. P. Sterline, "Blond Fashion Designer Has Her Eye on Space," Detroit Free Press, Oct.20 1965.
64. Resume for Gertrude Blanch, Records of the Federal Woman's Award, 3 Mar. 1963, Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library.
65. See Blanch correspondence, 1954-1967, Stern Family Collection.
66. SeeWashington Post, 5 Mar. 1962, 19 Mar. 1962; Washington Star, 7 Mar. 1962, 18 Mar. 1962; New York Times, 5 Mar. 1963; Dayton Daily News, 16 Mar. 1962, 10 Mar. 1963, 16 Mar. 1967; Dayton Journal Herald, 17 Mar. 1962; andDetroit Free Press, 20 Oct. 1965.
67. Resume for Gertrude Blanch, Records of the Federal Woman's Award, 3 Mar. 1963, Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library.
68. Letter from J.V. Armitage Aerospace Research Labs to Gertrude Blanch, 28 Apr. 1966, Blanch correspondence, Stern Family Collection.
69. See J.V. Armitage, director of Applied Mathematics Research Laboratory at the Aerospace Research Lab to Gertrude Blanch, 28 Apr. 1966 and Lynn Wolvaver, administrator of Applied Mathematics Research Lab to Gertrude Blanch, 8 June 1970, Gertrude Blanch papers, Stern Family Collection.
70. G. Blanch, manuscript forNumerical Analysis, Blanch Papers, Stern Family Collection.
71. Letter from Gertrude Blanch to Ryo Arai, Academic Press, 24 May 1982, Blanch papers, Stern Family Collection.
72. Noteson the theory of continued fractions, Blanch papers, Stern Family Collection. There are nearly 500 pages of these notes. Blanch was most interested in the convergence of continued fractions when three term recurrences existed for the coefficients.
73. Dean, op. cit.
74. Most notably in M. Abramowitz and I. Stegun, eds., Handbook of Mathematical Functions With Formulas, Graphs, and Mathematical Tables.Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1964.
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