Women in Technology - A Hidden History

Below is an outline for an article & poster that I am producing assisted by my colleague Myriam Leggieri as part of my work as a university outreach officer on the 'Hidden History of Women in Technology' that will be used to provide Role Models for Irish post-primary female students.

Science & Technology, as with so much in societies past & present, was/is dominated by men with educational, religious & cultural barriers being established to deny women equal access.

In the 20th century, women were denied entry to many professions, were only granted academic degrees at Oxford & Cambridge in the 1920s and secured the right to vote in Switzerland as late as 1971. In Ireland, there only 91 women at university in 1901, only 5% of married women had jobs outside the home in 1966 & only in 1973 was the ban on married women working in the Irish Public Service lifted.Even today in the Western world, there are few women involved in innovation, high level scientific research management, the corporate boardrooms or political governance.

Yet in the past some brave females still managed to overcome these obstacles to make significant contributions to advances in communications technology.

The Aristocrat - World’s First Computer Programmer
Augusta Ada King Countess of Lovelace, daughter of the British Romantic poet Lord Byron, is recognised as the world’s first computer programmer. In 1842 she wrote the first ever algorithm for processing numbers on Charles Bannage’s early mechanical general purpose computer or analytical engine who, so impressed by her mathematical skills, referred to her as ‘ The Enchantress of Numbers”. The computer language ADA was named after her.
24 March is commemorated as Ada Lovelace Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of women in technology and science

The Hollywood Goddess - Military Inventor

Austrian-born Hedy Lamarr, née Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, one of the legendary stars of Hollywood’s ‘Golden Age’, famed for her roles in such films as Algiers, Samson & Delilah and White Cargo, co-designed in 1941 a radio guided torpedo system based on ‘frequency hopping’ (changing) which became known as spectrum spread, a key element later used in the anti-jamming devices used by US military satellite communications systems and later still in digital mobile phone wireless technology.  


The All-Female Programming team

ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer), launched in 1946, was probably the world’s first general-purpose electronic digital computer. Eniac’s key 6 member programming team were all women, including Kathleen (Kay) Rita McNulty who was born in the Donegal Gaeltacht Ireland in 1921. Her family later emigrated to the USA and she qualified with a Mathematics degree in 1942. In 1946 she married John Mauchly, the co-inventor of Eniac, and worked on the software design of his later computers including the BINIAC and UNIVAC.

Ladymarine - The Naval Commander & Mathematician
Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (Mother of Cobol) is one of America’s most famous pioneers in computer science. In 1944, she was one of the first programmers of the Marvard Mark 1 electro-mechanical computer, and developed in 1952 the first compiler for a computer programmer language. She conceptualized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages. She is also credited with popularizing the term “debugging" for fixing computer glitches (motivated by an actual moth removed from the computer).

Lady Operator - World’s First Mini-Computer Operating System
Mary Allen Wilkes was a key member of the MIT Lincoln Center in Massachusetts from 1958-1963 where she was the designer of an operating system for the LINC, the world’s first minicomputer. In 1965, she used a LINC computer in her private house, which could be considered the world’s first ‘home’ computer.

The Macintosh Girl - 'Iconic' Trendsetter
Susan Kare was a member of the team that designed the pioneering Macintosh computer in the early 1980s, creating many of its user interface icons (Paint Bucket, Happy Macintosh) and fonts (New York & Geneva). She later designed icons for Microsoft Windows 3.0.

The Ladybell - Inventor of Computerised Phone System
Erna Hoover created a computerized telephone switching system whilst working at Bell Laboratories New Jersey. She designed the stored programme control that monitored incoming calls, prioritized incoming phone traffic and eliminated overloading problems which had previously led to switchboards freezing up.

The Language Lady - First Popular Programming Language
Jean E. Sammet graduated with an MA in Mathematics in 1949. In 1961, she became manager of IBM’s Programming Center in Boston and oversaw the development of FORMAC (FORmula MAnipulation Compiler), the first widely used general language and the first to manipulate symbolic algebraic expressions.

'Star Trek' Communications Officer- A Real Role Model for Women & African Americans

The fictional character, Lieutenant Nyoto Uhura who was Chief Communications Officer on the USS Enterprise in the science fiction series Star Trek that originally appeared in 1966. Though not a real character, nevertheless her appearance in this very popular television series during the 1960s broke important sexual and racial barriers, showing women of the future as proficient in engineering with positions of responsibility and command involving high technology. Uhura became an important Role Model for Black Afro-American women in particular.
For instance the well known American actress Whoopi Goldberg, who appeared in the later series Star Trek the Next Generation, stated that Uhura was a role model for her when she was a young telling her family, "I just saw a black woman on television, and she ain't no maid!"
Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura, was used by NASA in a campaign to encourage African Americans to join the service. Dr Mae Jemison. the first black American to fly aboard the Space Shuttle. said that Star Trek was a major influence in her decision to join NASA.
The name 'Uhura' comes from the Swahili word 'Uhuru' meaning 'Freedom'.

Why We Are Passionate About Saving the Whale

Over the last few weeks, a certain 'T. Leonard' has been writing to a local newspaper demanding that the Irish government follow the example of Iceland & Japan and turn the Irish fishing fleet over to whaling as a salvation to our economic woes. As far as he was concerned, the Save-the-Whale activists are nothing but a bunch of sentimental hippies out of touch with reality.
Not being a hippie, a sentimentalist or someone that lives in a fool's paradise, I decided to reply to him using arguments based on science and economics. Thankfully, today's Galway Advertiser published my letter which I include below with some of my youngest son's artwork of whales & dolphins.

Dear Sir,

In his letters, T. Leonard wonders why people are so obsessed with protecting whales. It is because these creatures are in so many ways the pinnacle of life on Earth.

Cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) include the largest (blue whale) animal that ever existed, with a heart the size of a motorcar; the longest migration (humpback) and the deepest swim (sperm) of any mammal; the beautiful ‘songs’ or vocalisation of whales have inspired music, literature and science; dolphin sonar is more advanced than human technology and can even be understood by other species.

Letterfrack Youth Playing Music Inspired by Marine Life

They have been on the planet for 55million years. Yet in just over a century, many of the largest whales were driven close to extinction by the destructive technology of commercial whaling. Blue whales decreased from 300,000 to less than 1,000. The Atlantic Gray Whale actually did disappear.

Thankfully, concerned campaigners persuaded most states to end the bloodshed. But survival has not yet been guaranteed as whales only give birth to a single calf once every 2 or 3 years. In spite of a ban on the hunting of blue whales since 1966, there are still possibly only 5,000 in existence.

Yet the killing goes on. Japan annually slaughters tens of thousands of dolphins, and at least 1,000 whales supposedly for ‘scientific research’. The 2.5metre Baiji dolphin entered the Yangtze River 20 million years. But it was recently declared extinct after being wiped out in a in a few short years by rapid built development, pollution, overfishing and shipping. The UN declared much of China’s longest river a ‘dead zone’, as it now lacks sufficient oxygen to support fish. The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will have a catastrophic impact on local Cetacean species.

T. Leonard says whaling should only be viewed as a ‘business’. If so, then it is an unnecessary, unwanted and unsustainable enterprise. There are alternatives to products once made from whales, and whale watching represents a growing profitable industry worldwide.

Furthermore, as someone that lived in Iceland, I know that there is no popular demand there for whale meat. Likewise in Japan, where public apathy and ever-growing stockpiles of frozen whale meat led to the government introducing it into school menus in order to force demand. Japanese scientists have warned though of the risks to human health due to the high levels of mercury in whale meat, brought about by humanity’s dumping of toxic waste into the oceans.

Japan has been accused of bribing countries to overturn the ban on commercial whaling at the International Whaling Commission even by governments that received its financial aid.

The 10,000 scientists of the World Conversation Union believe 40% of all species are now threatened by extinction due to habitat loss, mono-agriculture and human-induced climate change. Protecting large majestic endangered mammals positioned at the top of the food-chain such as whales, tigers and polar bears symbolises humankind’s attempts to finally reverse millennia of destructive behaviour on the very thin fragile surface membrane of Planet Earth that supports life. If we fail, then mankind’s own existence is threatened as all species are interdependent.

T Leonard gives the impression eco-campaigners do nothing themselves to clean up the huge amounts of waste dumps whose existence they exposed in the Pacific and elsewhere. Not so. In fact he is welcomed to join the hundreds of Galwegians that regularly clean up the ever-increasing rubbish that destroys the beaches, waterways, forests and parks that is home to wildlife and a prime leisure environment for humans. The next monthly community clean-up takes place along Salthill’s beaches on Saturday September 18th, starting at 12.00pm from Atlantaquaria.

Yours sincerely,

Brendan Smith

Sandyvale Lawn