Thelma Estrin: Medical informatics pioneer


Electrical and biomedical engineer Thelma Estrin (née Austern, 1924–2014) did pioneering work in computing, beginning with her work in the early 1950s at the Electroencephalography Department of the Neurological Institute of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

She and her husband Gerald built the first electronic computer in the Near East: the WEIZAC, or Weizmann Automatic Computer, in Israel.

When Gerald, also an electrical engineer, joined the faculty at UCLA in 1953, Thelma was barred from doing the same. Universities often won’t hire both a husband and wife; the usual upshot is that the husband is the one who gets the job. Thelma got a job at a nearby junior college.

She eventually did become a valued member of the UCLA staff and later faculty, as director of the data processing lab and a professor of computer science.

Thelma served as president of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society and was the first female vice-president of the IEEE. She was named an IEEE fellow in 1977 “for contributions to the design and application of computer systems for neurophysiological and brain research.”






Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

October 13 is Ada Lovelace Day! it’s a worldwide day of celebration of women and girls in the STEM fields.

Ada, Countess of Lovelace

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of the world’s first computer scientist. Thanks to Sydney Padua for making the distinction in interviews. Padua is the writer of the terrific book The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage (go buy it, already!) and the creator of this beautiful illustration to mark this special day.


The Woman Behind the Computer: Dr. Grace Murray Hopper

“Your Neighbors” column
The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, October 13, 1957

Two men developed the electronic computer. But a woman, Dr.
Grace Murray Hopper, is pointing out ways for people to outsmart
the machine. As director of automatic programming research
for the Sperry Rand Corp. her job is sort of liaison between man and
Scientists once spent as long as 12 weeks learning to pose their problems
to the machine (this is “programming”). To Dr. Hopper, this was
making man work for the machine instead of machine for the man. Her
article, “The Education of the Computer,” gives methods for reversing
the process.
In her office there is nothing mechanical about her method of running
the research division of 60-some employes. She selects each for
ability—not because one is a man or a woman, an oldster or a youngster,
a college graduate or non-graduate. “Setting a college degree or age
limit as a condition of employment means to me that the personnel
officer is lazy,” she says. She herself has three degrees—B.A. from
Vassar in 1928, M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale. After teaching mathematics
at Vassar 13 years she left an assistant professorship to join the Navy
in 1944. As ordnance officer in the WAVES she worked with early
digital computers, now is a commander in the Naval Reserve. She
lives at the Rittenhouse Claridge, owns a farmhouse in New Hampshire.


Uncle Sam’s first programmers


Betty Jennings (later Bartik) and Frances Bilas (later Spence) are here shown programming the the first electronic general-purpose computer in Philadelphia in the 1940s. These brilliant women helped win the war, but remained unsung heroes for decades. In Walter Isaacson’s book The Innovators, read how these and the other female mathematicians who programmed ENIAC were shut out of the banquets and other celebrations of this massive achievement.


Welcome to!

Throughout the history of computing, women have played a pivotal — if often marginalized — role. At, we’ll meet some of the women who shaped the world of tech, and learn their stories.

We’ll talk about what the landscape looks like today for women in tech, and brainstorm how we can contribute to a brighter future for all.