Betty Holberton

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Betty Holberton
Born Frances Elizabeth Snyder
(1917-03-07)March 7, 1917
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died December 8, 2001(2001-12-08) (aged 84)
Rockville, Maryland
Education University of Pennsylvania
Occupation Computer programmer
Employer - Moore School of Engineering
- Remington Rand
- National Bureau of Standards
- David Taylor Model Basin
Known for ENIAC
Spouse(s) John Vaughan Holberton
Children Priscilla Holberton
Pamela Holberton

Frances Elizabeth "Betty" Holberton (March 7, 1917 – December 8, 2001) was one of the six original programmers of ENIAC, the first general-purpose electronic digital computer.

Early life and education[edit]

Programmers Betty Jean Jennings (left) and Fran Bilas (right) operate the ENIAC's main control panel.

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Holberton was born Frances Elizabeth Snyder in Philadelphia in 1917. On her first day of classes at the University of Pennsylvania, Holberton's math professor asked her if she wouldn't be better off at home raising children.[1] Instead, Holberton decided to study journalism, because its curriculum let her travel far a-field.[2] Journalism was also one of the few fields open to women as a career in the 1940s.[1]

Career[edit]

Betty Holberton (right foreground) programming the ENIAC computer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, BRL building 328 (1940s/1950s)

During World War II while the men were fighting, the Army needed the women to compute ballistics trajectories. Holberton was hired by the Moore School of Engineering to work as a "computor", and was soon chosen to be one of the six women to program the ENIAC. Classified as "subprofessionals", Holberton, along with Kay McNulty, Marlyn Wescoff, Ruth Lichterman, Betty Jean Jennings, and Fran Bilas, programmed the ENIAC to perform calculations for ballistics trajectories electronically for the Ballistic Research Laboratory (BRL), US Army. Their work on ENIAC earned each of them a place in the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame.[3] In the beginning, because the ENIAC was classified, the women were only allowed to work with blueprints and wiring diagrams in order to program it. The ENIAC was unveiled on February 15, 1946, at the University of Pennsylvania.[4][5] It had cost almost $500,000.[5] During her time working on ENIAC she had many productive ideas that came to her overnight leading other programs to jokingly state that she "solved more problems in her sleep than other people did awake,"[6]


After World War II, Holberton worked at Remington Rand and the National Bureau of Standards. She was the Chief of the Programming Research Branch, Applied Mathematics Laboratory at the David Taylor Model Basin in 1959. She helped to develop the UNIVAC, designing control panels that put the numeric keypad next to the keyboard and persuading engineers to replace the Univac's black exterior with the gray-beige tone that came to be the universal color of computers.[7] She also wrote the first generative programming system (SORT/MERGE), and wrote the first statistical analysis package, which was used for the 1950 US Census.

In 1953 she was made a supervisor of advanced programming in a part of the Navy’s Applied Math lab in Maryland, where she stayed until 1966.[8] Holberton worked with John Mauchly to develop the C-10 instruction set for BINAC, which is considered to be the prototype of all modern programming languages. She also was an important figure in the development of early standards for the COBOL and FORTRAN programming languages with Grace Hopper.[9] Her work with COBOL was significant in that despite being updated and revised multiple times since, COBOL is still used today.[10] Later, as an employee of the National Bureau of Standards, she was very active in the first two revisions of the Fortran language standard ("FORTRAN 77" and "Fortran 90").

Death[edit]

She died on December 8, 2001 in Rockville, Maryland, due to heart disease, diabetes, and complications from a stroke she had suffered several years before.[11][12] Betty Holberton was survived by her husband John Vaughn Holberton and her daughters Pamela and Priscilla.[13]

Awards[edit]

In 1997 she was the only woman of the original six who programmed the ENIAC to receive the Augusta Ada Lovelace Award, the highest award given by the Association of Women in Computing.[3]

Also in 1997, she received the IEEE Computer Pioneer Award from the IEEE Computer Society for developing the sort-merge generator which, according to IEEE, "inspired the first ideas about compilation." [3]

Also in 1997, she was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame, along with the other original ENIAC programmers.[3]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Recent Advances and Issues in Computers - Martin Gay - Google Books
  2. ^ Betty Holberton Video | Interviews
  3. ^ a b c d ENIAC Programmers Project - Awards
  4. ^ ENIAC Programmers Project - Overview
  5. ^ a b On Computers: historical development of computers
  6. ^ Lohr, Steve (Dec 17, 2001). "Frances E. Holberton, 84, Early Computer Programmer". NYTimes. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  7. ^ Levy, Claudia (December 15, 2001). "Frances Holberton, 84; Pioneer Programmer of Early Computers". Los Angeles Times. 
  8. ^ Lohr, Steve. "Frances E. Holberton, 84, Early Computer Programmer". NYTimes. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  9. ^ Fritz, W. Barkley (1996). "The Women of ENIAC". IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 8 (3): 17. 
  10. ^ Lohr, Steve. "Frances E. Holberton, 84, Early Computer Programmer". NYTimes. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 
  11. ^ Lohr, Steve (December 17, 2001). "Frances E. Holberton, 84, Early Computer Programmer". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-06-07. Frances Elizabeth Holberton, one of the first computer programmers, whose contributions to software over the years ranged from an early data-sorting program to helping develop the business programming language Cobol, died on Dec. 8 at a nursing home in Rockville, Md. She was 84. 
  12. ^ "Computer pioneer Betty Holberton dies at 84". Government Computer News. January 7, 2002. Retrieved 2008-06-07. Frances “Betty” Snyder Holberton, a pioneer in programming languages and other aspects of computing, died Dec. 8 in Rockville, Md. She was 84. 
  13. ^ Lohr, Steve (Dec 17, 2001). "Frances E. Holberton, 84, Early Computer Programmer". NYTimes. Retrieved 16 December 2014. 

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Stanley, Autumn (1933). "Chapter 5 Daughters of the Enchantress of Numbers and Grandma COBOL". Mothers and Daughters of Invention: Notes for a Revised History of Technology. The Scarecrow Press Inc. p. 460. ISBN 0-8135-2197-1. 
  • Ceruzzi, Paul E. (2003). "Chapter 3 The Early History of Software, 1952-1968". A History of Modern Computing. MIT Press. pp. 89–90. ISBN 0-262-53203-4. 
  • Norberg, Arthur (2002). "Part 4 Software as Labor Process". History of Computing - Software Issues. Springer. p. 159. ISBN 3-540-42664-7.