Gloria Gordon Bolotsky
While there were only six women chosen to be the original programmers of the ENIAC, as use of the machine expanded so did the team of operators. Eventually that team would include a hundred scientists, quite a few of them women who had previously been “computers.” Gloria Gordon Bolotsky was part of this group.
Born on July 28th, 1921, Bolotsky grew up in New York City and attended nursing school before she eventually earned a degree in mathematics from Brooklyn College. She worked at Brooklyn Navy Yard after graduation, and her daughter said that Bolotsky “narrowly missed” being assigned to the Manhattan Project. Instead, to her relief, she was asked to move to Philadelphia to join the women at the Moore School who were participating in the ENIAC project.
The ENIAC had to be physically programmed, 3,000 switches had to be properly switched on or off. Hundreds of wires and 40 cables had to be plugged in before it could actually do its job. Kathy Kleiman, founder of the ENIAC Programmer Project points out, “there was no language, no operating system…the women had to figure out what the computer was, how to interface with it, and then break down a complicated mathematical problem into very small steps.”
When the war ended, the government started to ask women to leave their wartime jobs so that returning soldiers could go back to work. But none of those returning soldiers knew how to program a computer, and the ENIAC programmers were highly educated women with unique experience. So the Army encouraged them to stay. When the entire 27 ton machine was moved to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, Bolotsky came with it. She met her husband in Maryland, and settled there to start her family.
While Bolotsky worked as a math teacher in Towson for a time, she came back to government service when she joined the National Bureau of Standards. Over the next two decades, she helped them improve their computer networks and telecommunication systems. She contributed to several publications for the Bureau of Standards, including reports on computer network security.
Bolotsky died in 2009.
Written by Mary Ratliff