Mary Kenneth Keller entered the Roman Catholic Order, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM), in 1932 and professed her vows with the order in 1940. Later, Keller earned her B.S. in Mathematics in 1943, her M.S. in Mathematics and Physics from DePaul University in 1953. She received her Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in June 1965 – the first US Ph.D. in computer science. Her thesis work examined constructing algorithms that performed analytic differentiation on algebraic expression, written in CDC FORTRAN 63.
Keller did graduate work in computer science at Purdue, the University of Michigan, and Dartmouth College. Dartmouth made an exception to its “men only” rule so she could work in Dartmouth University’s Computer Center, where she worked on the development of BASIC. Following the completion of her Ph.D., she accepted a faculty position at Clark College (now Clarke University) and founded the Computer Science Department. She was department chair for almost twenty years. She also established a master’s degree program at Clarke College for computer applications in education.
Keller was committed to computer science education and the use of computers more broadly in education. She played an active role in computer science education when it was still in its formative years in the United States. She is credited as being a founder of CUETUG (College and University Eleven-Thirty Users Group) and served as its Public Relations officer from 1977-1984. CUETUG was a community of schools that used IBM’s 1130s “to automate functions and assist in teaching new curriculum regarding computer use outside of programming or computer science”. CUETUG continues today as ASCUE (Association of Small Computer Users in Education).
Keller was also viewed as an advocate for women in computer science and for working women, allowing women to bring their children to class if needed.