March 23, 2011
Computing pioneer, Northwest alumna Jean Jennings Bartik dies at 86
Related information and links:
- Learn more about Jean Jennings Bartik at Northwest's online Computing Museum.
- Smithsonian renews loan with Northwest for ENIAC artifact
- CNN: Rediscovering WWII's female 'computers'
- Watch a video featuring Jean Jennings Bartik on YouTube.
- View photos of Jean Jennings Bartik through the years.
MARYVILLE, Mo. - Jean Jennings Bartik, who was Northwest Missouri State University's only female math major when she graduated in 1945 and went on to become one of six female computers chosen to program the world's first electronic computer, has died, the University learned today.
Bartik passed away Wednesday morning at a rehabilitation facility in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where she was recovering from a stroke. She was 86.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Raised on a farm near Stanberry, Bartik graduated from Stanberry High School in 1941 at the age of 16 and attended Northwest Missouri State Teachers College, now Northwest Missouri State.
After her graduation, she was recruited by the U.S. Army as a human "computer" to hand calculate the firing trajectories of artillery during World War II. Working in an old fraternity house at the University of Pennsylvania, she earned $2,000 a year and an additional $400 for working on Saturdays.
Months later, in the fall of 1945, Bartik was among six women "computers" chosen to program the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, or ENIAC. Though she was initially selected to be an alternate, other women declined the offer and at age 20 Bartik was the youngest woman to participate in the ground-breaking project.
The ENIAC was intended to automate the trajectory calculations the female computers performed by hand. At 100 feet long, 10 feet high and built with 17,480 vacuum tubes, the ENIAC occupied a basement room the size of a small gymnasium in the Moore School of Electrical Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. Bartik and her co-workers broke down complex equations into their smallest possible components, calculating the route to be performed in sequence at a rate of 5,000 additions per second.
Later, she helped program the BINAC and the UNIVAC, the world's first commercial computer. After taking time off to raise her family, Bartik worked positions in technology-related publishing and marketing. She also sold real estate.
In 1997, Bartik and her fellow programmers were inducted into the Women In Technology International Hall of Fame. In 2008, the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., presented Bartik with its Fellow Award, enshrining her in the CHM Hall of Fellows.
Bartik, who visited Northwest frequently, was on hand in the spring of 2002 as the University dedicated its Jean Jennings Bartik Computing Museum. Also in 2002, she delivered the University's commencement address, receiving a standing ovation from the audience, and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Northwest. In the fall of 2007, she returned to Northwest as the Homecoming Grand Marshal.
Dr. Jon Rickman, vice president of information systems at Northwest and director of the Jean Jennings Bartik Computing Museum, said Bartik has left an important legacy in the programming industry as well as at Northwest Missouri State.
"Today there are over 1.4 million programmers and software developers in the United States, and Jean Jennings Bartik was the first," Rickman said. "I've enjoyed working on the creation of the Jean Jennings Bartik Museum here at Northwest Missouri State University. It has been an honor to help Jean complete her autobiography and watch her join the Hall of Fellows at the Computer History Museum."
In a July 2001 cover story for the Northwest Alumni Magazine, Bartik said, "I want to be remembered as a lucky person who was in the right place at the right time to be a pioneer in the computer business. The only characteristics I have are a sense of adventure, believing I can do anything and knowing to open the door when opportunity knocks."
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