Did you know, sixty years ago, six young women programmed the ENIAC,
the first all-electronic programmable computer?
Jean Jennings Bartik (left) and Frances Bilas Spence (right) preparing for the public unveiling of ENIAC, February 1946.
Six young women mastered the power of the ENIAC an 80 foot long, 8 foot tall, black metal machine and harnessed its power through an archaic programming interface using dozens of wires and 3000 switches. They programmed ENIAC to perform a ballistics trajectory, a differential calculus equation important to the WWII effort, and they succeeded brilliantly. When the ENIAC was unveiled to the public on February 14, 1946, their program captured the imagination of the press and made headlines across the country. Afterwards, the ENIAC became a legendary machine and its engineers (all men) became famous. Never introduced or credited at the ENIAC events of the 1940s, the Programmers story disappeared from history. They became invisible.
Kathy Kleiman, then a young programmer herself, discovered the ENIAC Programmers in the mid-1980s. "Their story inspired me and helped me to stay involved in computing at a time when few women were in my computer science classes,"notes Kleiman. After 20 years of research and interviews, Kleiman has learned and seeks to share the story of the ENIAC Programmers, their contributions in the 1940s and their later careers in computing.
Top, from left to right: Kathy Kleiman, Jean Bartik, Marlyn Meltzer, Kay Antonelli; Bottom: Betty Holberton
Now dedicated to producing the first feature-length documentary to tell the ENIAC Programmers' story, Kleiman has teamed up with Academy Award ® winning documentarian Susan Hadary on this milestone project. "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," shares Kleiman. "Not only did they program the first modern computer, some devoted decades to making programming easier and more accessible for all who followed." "Certainly the time is long past due to tell the secret of these pioneer women on the ENIAC project," adds Hadary.
Come celebrate our history! Join us in making the documentary Refrigerator Ladies: The Untold Story of the ENIAC Programmers a reality. Help us preserve this story for our daughters, and our sons, who follow.