ENIAC Programmer Passes Away at 86

LOS ALAMITOS, Calif., 22 March, 2011 – Betty Jean Jennings Bartik, one of the original ENIAC programmers and the recipient of a 2008 IEEE Computer Society Computer Pioneer Award, has passed away at age 86, according to published reports.

Bartik was a member of the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame in 2002, a Fellow of the Computer History Museum, and recipient of the Multinational Development of Women in Technology group’s Korenman Award.

At age 20, Bartik answered the Army’s call for women math majors to serve as “computers” and calculate ballistics trajectories by hand for the Army’s Ballistics Research Lab. A few months later, she volunteered to run the first electronic computer, the Electronic Numeric Integrator and Computer (ENIAC).

Bartik led the programming effort to turn the ENIAC into a stored program computer and went on to program the Binary Automatic Computer (BINAC), and do logical design on the Universal Automatic Computer (UNIVAC), the first commercial computer.

During her career, Bartik worked at Remington Rand, Auerbach Publishers, and Honeywell. Bartik and the other ENIAC programmers were not credited for their contributions until 1985, four decades after the war’s end.

Bartik was honored with the Computer Society’s Computer Pioneer Award at a ceremony in 2008. During the presentation, she recalled how female ENIAC programmers were asked to pose in front of the computers and their knowledge of computing ignored.

"We were never treated as though we knew anything," Bartik said. "When the press came, they had us act like models and pretend to set switches. We were never considered a part of history."

Only after Harvard sociology grad student Kathy Kleiman wrote about the contributions of "the ENIAC woman" was their role revealed. 

Watch Bartik discussing her early computing days in this video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82EifuJ7O8U. For more information on her contributions, visit http://www.computer.org/portal/web/awards/bartik.

About the IEEE Computer Society

With nearly 85,000 members, the IEEE Computer Society is the world’s leading organization of computing professionals. Founded in 1946, and the largest of IEEE’s 38 societies, the Computer Society is dedicated to advancing the theory and application of computer and information-processing technology. The Society serves the information and career-development needs of today’s computing researchers and practitioners with technical journals, magazines, conferences, books, conference publications, certifications, and online courses.

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