Sixty years ago, six women became some of the earliest computer hackers in history. A new documentary hopes to give them their credit due.
In the half-century since Rosie the Riveter became the culture icon not just for women who had worked in manufacturing plants while men were off fighting World War II, but for the entire feminist movement that followed, history has all but forgotten six women with their own wartime contribution—programming the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer).
The ENIAC was an 80 foot long, 8 foot tall, black metal machine with an archaic programming interface involving dozens of wire and 3000 switches. The women successfully programmed it to perform a ballistics trajectory, a differential calculus equation that was important to the WWII effort. However, in the decades that followed, the women’s story disappeared from history.
A new documentary in the making, called “Invisible Computers: The Untold Story of the ENIAC Programmers,” hopes to give these women their due credit by chronicling their stories.
“The names of Betty Snyder Holberton, Jean Jennings Bartik, Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum and Frances Bilas Spence belong in our history books and computer courses,” said Kathy Kleiman, the historian for the ENIAC Programmers and producer of the first full-length documentary to explore their untold story. “Not only did they program the first modern computer, some devoted decades to making programming easier and more accessible for all who followed.”