Pioneering female computer scientists to be topic of next RENCI Distinguished Lecture

CHAPEL HILL, NC, August 7, 2008 – It has been over 60 years since the world’s first all-electronic programmable computer, the ENIAC (or Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer), was developed during World War II. A group of skilled mathematicians programmed the machine, but they were overlooked in the annals of computer history for one primary reason: they were women.

Kathy Kleiman, historian, computer programmer, telecommunications lawyer and head of the ENIAC Programmers Project, will speak about these women—whom ABC News referred to “Rosie the Riveter meets Bill Gates”—and about her efforts to produce a film documenting their unique and unsung accomplishments at the Fall 2008 Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) Distinguished Lecture.

Kleiman will speak on Thursday, Sept. 25, at the Bryan University Center on the campus of Duke University. The lecture, titled Shaking Up Computer History: Finding the Women of ENIAC, is co-sponsored by Duke University’s Office of the Provost and Office of Information and Technology, and by Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). The lecture hall will open at 11:30 a.m. and lunch will be available free of charge on a first-come, first-served basis. Kleiman’s talk will begin at noon.

Twenty years ago, Kleiman discovered the ENIAC programmers—Kathleen Mauchly Antonelli, Frances Bilas Spence, Frances “Betty” Snyder Holberton, Jean Jennings Bartik, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer and Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum—who programmed the first all-electronic programmable computer, the ENIAC. Kleiman devoted her undergraduate thesis to writing the ENIAC programmers’ missing chapter of computer history. A decade later she returned to the ENIAC women to capture their stories in their own voices. These powerful interviews form the basis of a full-length feature documentary Invisible Computers: The Story of the ENIAC Programmers. Some excerpts from the documentary will be shared at the lecture.

“Despite the outstanding success of ENIAC, these pioneering women were relegated to obscurity for over 50 years,” said Kleiman. “They performed their work under difficult conditions and taught themselves to program without programming manuals, classes or languages. The programmers performed a differential calculus equation critical to a secret WWII effort.”

The lecture will also reference the contributions made by several of the ENIAC programmers for decades after WWII, including seminal contributions to computer languages and standards.

Kleiman’s interests also extend to Internet governance issues. She is a founding member of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and co-founder of its Noncommercial Users Constituency. Concerned about protecting noncommercial uses of the Internet, including political and personal speech, Kleiman speaks on issues of free speech, fair use and privacy issues in Internet forums around the world. She is a graduate from Harvard College and Boston University School of Law.

The one-hour lecture will be followed by a question and answer session. It is free and open to the general public, but attendees must register on the RENCI website. For more information and to register, please see Distinguished Lecture Series.

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The Renaissance Computing Institute, a multi-institutional organization, brings together multidisciplinary experts and advanced technological capabilities to address pressing research issues and to find solutions to complex problems that affect the quality of life in North Carolina, our nation and the world. RENCI leverages its expertise and resources in leading edge computing, visualization, networking and data technologies to catalyze new collaborations and find solutions to previously intractable problems. Founded in 2004 as a major collaborative venture of Duke University, North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the state of North Carolina, RENCI is a statewide virtual organization. For more, see