ENIAC is Prominent in Computer Industry History

Six Women Contributors are Early Computer Programmers 

The ENIAC computer story is well known, the six women computer programmers who operated the ENIAC have only recently been awarded for their achievements from the 1940s.

Numerous stories of how John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert developed the ENIAC I, (Electrical Numerical Integrator and Calculator) in the 1940s have been printed. It was not until the 1980’s that articles were written about the six women who were the first programmers of the ENIAC.

Who Discovered These Six Women Programmers?

Kathy Kleiman, Programmer, Historian, and Executive Producer of the ENIAC Programmers Project, is the significant person in unraveling this hidden story of these six women who actually worked on the ENIAC in the 1940’s and made the current video, Computer History Moment: ENIAC Women.

Kleiman is currently working on a new documentary, “Refrigerator Ladies: The Untold Story of the ENIAC Programmers” through ENIAC Programmers Project Foundation. Donations are welcome and accepted at their website, ENIAC Programmers Project. 

Women Computer History

ENIAC Story and 6 Women Computer Programmers

First Women Computer Programmers in Business

These six women programmers worked on this secret machine, the ENIAC, to calculate the ballistics firing tables for the new guns developed for world war effort by the Army in 1945. The ENIAC, the first all-programmable computer was described as 80 feet long, 8 feet tall, black, and with 3000 switches.

Jean Jennings Bartik, Frances “Betty” Snyder Holberton, Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, Marlyn Wescoff Meltzer, Ruth Lichterman Teitelbaum and Frances Bilas Spence worked together in teams of two through this unknown journey of the ENIAC.

It is personal stories of how these women gathered together in Philadelphia from small communities within Kansas, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Missouri, to work on this new state-of-the-art computer that is aspiring to young females now entering into the computer industry.

Jean Jennings Bartik reminisces how she got this job when she was at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA, in October 2008:

“After receiving a telegram job offer from Philadelphia when I graduated from Northwest Missouri State Teachers College with a Math Degree, I purchased a one way train ticket for $35 to arrive the next day, to begin this new job as a ‘Computer’ for a salary of $2,000 a year, and with a $400 bonus for working on Saturdays.”

Showing the contrast to current annual salaries, it is the same challenge to work on the newest technology developments which proved satisfying to these women. Programmers were called ‘Computers’ during this era.

When asked what type of advice she might give to young females, Jean Bartik, who did take fourteen years in between key positions to raise her family said, “Parents need to push to get their daughters the same support in schools for computers and math. It is still is not a level playing field for females.”

These women say that it was their stubbornness and anger which kept them going through the many challenges they came across. They knew it was sometimes good to just go home after long days and think about problems after a night’s sleep, to find clear programming results the next day.

These women give credit to Mauchly and Eckert for creating this computer and who knew how to program it, it was the job of these six women to actually run the ENIAC for them.

Jean Bartik’s final comments during this evening were, “You only have today, tomorrow is not here, and  yesterday is gone. We’re as happy as we choose to be, so I choose to be happy. Enjoy everyday that you can.”

Bartik predicts, “There will always be people thinking outside the box with computers of ideas that we never even dreamed of.”

Recent Computer Industry Achievement Awards

  • IEEE Computer Society, Computer Pioneer Award, 2009, awarded to Jean Bartik for co-leading teams of ENIAC programmers and pioneering work on BINAC and UNIVAC I.
  • Computer History Museum 2008 Fellows Award to Jean Bartik, as a lifetime achievement award
  • An Evening with Jean Bartik, 2008 Fellows Award Recipient and recognition to Kathy Keiman for contributions of telling this story through her research
  • WITI Hall of Fame, 1997 inducted all six women programmers of the ENIAC
  • IEEE Computer Award, 1997, awarded to ENIAC Progammer, Betty Holbertson for developing the sort-merge generator
  • Augusta Ada Lovelace Award, 1997, awarded to programmer, Betty Holberton, by the Association of Women in Computing

The story of the six women computer programmers who operated the ENIAC is continuing to be unveiled as they receive achievement awards from this significant period of computer history in the 1940s.



ENIAC Programmers Project website

An Evening with Jean Bartik at the Computer History Museum program, October 2008, which was also documented with a video from the Google Blog, 12/17/2008.

Permission to use image from ENIAC Programmers Project Webstie.

Permission to use article as previously written by Donna West, June 2009

Other Articles

ENIAC Computer and the Six Women Contributors Story

Jean Jennings Bartik – Events at the Computer History Museum