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“Computers,” Scholars, and Everyday Heroes

This issue of SWE Magazine provides a compelling combination of inspiration and food for thought.
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“Computers,” Scholars, and Everyday Heroes SWE Magazine
Anne Perusek

Our cover feature, “The Programming Pioneers of ENIAC,” tells the story of the women programmers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering, whose work transitioned society from analog to digital computing. Sometimes referred to as “refrigerator ladies,” most of the world was unaware of their contributions and dimly conscious of their existence only because they sometimes appeared in photos, standing alongside the Electrical Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) as if they were models showing off a household appliance — a common advertising technique of the time.

These women had degrees in math, but their work with the War Department during World War II was designated as “subprofessional,” despite the fact that men with the same education and experience were “professional.” Essential to the success of ENIAC, they were absent from the celebrations and media coverage that followed. Accolades were decades late in coming.

And while their treatment is an indictment against gender bias and chauvinism, these women have powerful personal stories that are a testament to their hard work and talent, to their rich, meaningful, and multidimensional lives. Their contributions have come to light thanks to the dedicated efforts of Kathryn Kleiman and her minidocumentary, “The Computers,” and her ENIAC Programmers Project; as well as filmmaker LeAnn Erickson’s documentary “Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of WWII,” and her subsequent work in “The Computer Wore Heels.”

Another feature, “Rhodes Scholar Women Engineers ‘Fight the World’s Fight’ on Their Own Terms,” looks at a cohort of diverse scholars who interpret the meaning of the Rhodes mission quite differently from previous generations. Their participation reflects an understanding that solutions to the world’s most complex problems require — in the words of the recently named first female warden of Rhodes House — “a cooperative spirit, and the ability to cross boundaries, challenge stereotypes, and break down walls.”

Our third feature, “Women Engineers You Should Know,” celebrates the contributions and lives of women engineers, our everyday heroes. This is the fifth year of our annual series, which relies upon input from SWE’s social media community to submit nominees.

Lastly, our News and Advocacy and Voices and Views sections offer reporting and insight on current topics — ranging from SWE’s recent congressional visits, to the cancellation of NASA’s all-women spacewalk, to reflections on money and relationships, and what happens when women outearn their male partners.

Anne Perusek signature

Director of Editorial & Publications

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