The IEEE Computer Society honors six women who were the original programmers of the ENIAC: Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, Jean Jennings Bartik, Frances Elizabeth Holberton, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Frances Bilas Spence, and Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum.
Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli was born in Ireland, immigrated to the US at age 2 and received a degree in mathematics from Chestnut Hill College in 1942. Shortly after graduation, she responded to an advertisement to be hired as a “computer” by the Ballistic Research Laboratory operating out of the Moore School of Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. Subsequently, in 1945 she was selected as one of the first programmers of the ENIAC.
Jean Jennings Bartik was born in 1924 in Missouri and graduated from Northwest Missouri State Teachers College in 1945 with a degree in mathematics. She was hired by the University of Pennsylvania as a “computer”. Bartik became the co-lead programmer of the ENIAC along with Elizabeth Holberton. Bartik later led a group of programmers to convert the ENIAC into a stored program computer.
Frances Elizabeth Holberton was born in Philadelphia in 1917. She was hired by the Moore School of Engineering to work as a “computer”. She invented break points for debugging. After her work on the ENIAC, she worked with Grace Hopper on developing standards for COBOL and FORTRAN programming languages.
Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer graduated from Temple University in 1942. Initially, hired by Moore School of Engineering to perform weather calculations, she joined the team doing ballistics calculations in 1943 and began one of the first programmers of the ENIAC.
In 1942, Frances Bilas Spence graduated from Chestnut Hill College with a major in mathematics and minor in physics along with Kathleen Antonelli. She was hired as a computer and then went on to be one of the original 6 programmers of the ENIAC.
Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum graduated from Hunter College with a degree in mathematics. She was hired by the Moore School of Engineering to compute ballistics trajectories and then went on to be one of the original programmers of the ENIAC.
These women were original employed as “computers” to do ballistics calculations as part of the Women’s Army Corp during WWII. They were later selected to learn how to program the newly designed ENIAC. They were tasked with understanding how the ENIAC functioned, debug its operation and program it. In the course of their work on the ENIAC, these 6 women developed subroutines, nesting, and other fundamental programming techniques.
Although their work at the time was largely viewed as clerical and thus omitted from contemporary accounts of the ENIAC, the women played a significant role in the pioneering achievement of the ENIAC. It is only in the last 20 years, that the story of these 6 women has begun to receive its due recognition. We believe it is fitting to recognize their role in laying the foundation for modern computer programming by renaming the Computer Pioneer award for them. Notably, Holberton and Bartik were both recipients of the Computer Pioneer Award in 1997 and 2008, respectively.