Discover a fascinating look into the lives of six historic trailblazers in this World War II-era story of the American women who programmed the world's first modern computer.
After the end of World War II, the race for technological supremacy sped on. Top-secret research into ballistics and computing, begun during the war to aid those on the front lines, continued across the United States as engineers and programmers rushed to complete their confidential assignments. Among them were six pioneering women, tasked with figuring out how to program the world's first general-purpose, programmable, all-electronic computer—better known as the ENIAC—even though there were no instruction codes or programming languages in existence. While most students of computer history are aware of this innovative machine, the great contributions of the women who programmed it were never told—until now.
Over the course of a decade, Kathy Kleiman met with four of the original six ENIAC Programmers and recorded extensive interviews with the women about their work. Proving Ground restores these women to their rightful place as technological revolutionaries. As the tech world continues to struggle with gender imbalance and its far-reaching consequences, the story of the ENIAC Programmers' groundbreaking work is more urgently necessary than ever before, and Proving Ground is the celebration they deserve.
Law professor Kleiman recounts in her fantastic debut the vital but overlooked role six women played in the history of computers. While researching computer programming, Kleiman came across photos of unidentified women working on the ENIAC, "the world's first all-electronic, programmable, general-purpose computer" built at the University of Pennsylvania during WWII. Unconvinced by a museum director's suggestion that they were models, she dug deeper and uncovered their role in ENIAC's development. In 1942, with the US having joined WWII and men in short supply, the Army hired young women with math backgrounds to program ENIAC to calculate missile trajectories. With no manuals to aid them, Frances Elizabeth Snyder Holberton, Betty Jean Jennings, Kathleen McNulty, Marlyn Wescoff, Frances Bilas, and Ruth Lichterman took the job. Despite harassment and discriminatory treatment (they were classified SP, for "subprofessional and subscientific"), they persevered, and with their success opened up an "electronic computing revolution" that some "would soon call... the birth of the Information Age," Kleiman writes. Kleiman has a novelist's gift for crafting a page-turning narrative, and the one on offer is both revelatory and inspiring. Fans of Dava Sobel's The Glass Universe and Margot Lee Shetterly's Hidden Figures are in for a treat.