For years, the women who invented modern computer programming were forgotten by history. When lawyer Kathy Kleiman was researching a college project, she found a picture of the ENIAC computer surrounded by women, but they weren’t identified. She was told that the women were models. They were in fact instrumental to the operation of the world’s first electronic general-purpose computer. Women like Adele Goldstine.
Goldstine was born in New York City on December 21st, 1920. She attended Hunter College and then the University of Michigan, where she earned a bachelor’s and master’s in mathematics respectively. It was while she was in Michigan that she met Herman Goldstine, a man who would later be an administrator on the ENIAC project. The two were married in 1941.
The Goldstines worked at Moore School of Electrical Engineering in the early 1940’s. Adele trained the women math majors who were hired as “computers,” and even recruited some of them herself from Hunter College, her alma mater. The six women who would go on to program the ENIAC were trained in the differential equations and ballistic trajectory calculations by Goldstine. Jean Jennings Bartik remembers her as “bright, talented, and hardworking.”
For years after the ENIAC was first developed, there was no formal technical manual for the machine. In the summer of 1946, Goldstine put together the first technical description and operators manual for the computer, basing it on the programming work pioneered by the six women on the project. The report was extremely detailed, and provided a basis for years of successful work on the ENIAC.
During that same time period, Goldstine also assisted in the task to convert the ENIAC into a computer that could store programs, meaning that it didn’t have to be hand programmed for each different task. She left the project in March of 1946. Later, she went on to work for Los Alamos National Laboratory where she wrote programs to be run on the ENIAC. Goldstine’s life was cut short by cancer, and she passed away in 1964.
Written by Mary Ratliff