Get facts straight on computer women

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The photograph you captioned as showing female programmers of the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) in the 1940s in fact dates from 1962, and the women were not ENIAC programmers (see W. R. Poster Nature 555, 577–580; 2018; now corrected). They are Patsy Boyce (later Simmers), Gail Beck (later Taylor), Millicent Beck and Norma Stec, who worked at the US Army Ballistics Research Laboratory in Aberdeen, Maryland. The photo shows the progressive miniaturization of circuitry through four generations of computers: ENIAC (1945), EDVAC (1949), ORDVAC (1952) and BRLESC (1962).

Simmers and Stec were mathematicians. They used the ORDVAC and BRLESC computers to calculate US Army weapons-firing tables (see As far as I can tell, the stories of the other two women in the photo have not been told. Little is known about the computer artefacts they are holding.

The photo is also an example of historical casual sexism in the field of computing. When originally published (Army Research and Development News Magazine 3, 4; 1962), it was captioned “BRLESC girls pictured below”, playing on the pronunciation of BRLESC as ‘burlesque’.

Nature 557, 309 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-05152-7
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