Jean Jennings Bartik, my mother, died on March 23, 2011. She was 86.
My mom lived a life full of determination, integrity, a sense of humor, and a positive philosophy. Those of us who knew her and loved her, and who were loved by her, will be forever shaped by her forceful nature.
My mom’s life may be of broader interest beyond her loved ones. After graduating from Northwest Missouri State at the age of 20, in 1945, she headed off for adventure in Philadelphia. Her first job title was as a “computer” working to calculate ballistics table. She then was selected to be one of the first six computer programmers in the world, on the ENIAC computer. She later worked to convert the ENIAC to a stored program computer, and also worked on UNIVAC I.
You can find more about her life in her Wikipedia entry and on the website of the computer history museum named after her at Northwest Missouri State University. There also is an hour long interview with her on You Tube that was recorded in October of 2008, when she was inducted as an Honorary Fellow at the Computer History Museum in Palo Alto. She also appears in a recent documentary, “Top Secret Rosies”, on the female “computers” of World War II. In addition, Kathy Kleiman for many years has been working on a documentary on the first six computer programmers, the ENIAC programmers, all of whom were women, and why their role was so long overlooked. CNN did a nice obituary.
Her memoir is in editing and should be published soon. Obviously such a memoir is a great gift to her family. But I think the memoir also sheds light on the development of computers, and how sexism has limited the role of women in many scientific occupations.
My mom loved her life despite facing many challenges. As she said numerous times, she “chose to be happy”. She greatly enjoyed in her last years speaking to numerous audiences, particularly those with young women. Her big issue was trying to encourage more women to enter and reach the top of scientific and technical occupations. I hope her life and example will inspire more diversity in these fields.