Gertrude Blanch

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Gertrude Blanch Born: 2 February 1897 in Kolno, Russian Empire (now Poland)Died: 1 January 1996) was an American mathematician who did pioneering work in numerical analysis and computation. She worked on the Mathematical Tables Project in New York. She was also the assistant director and leader of the Numerical Analysis at UCLA computing division.

Gertrude blanch.jpg

Early Years and Education[edit]

Blanch was named Gittel Kaimowitz when she was born in Kolno, at the time the country was partitioned and Gittel Kaimowitz was born in a part which was in the Russian Empire. Her parents were Wolfe Kaimowitz and Dora Blanc emigrated to the United States— She was the youngest of their seven children. Blanch's father emigrated to the United States with the intention of having his wife and the younger children follow him in due course. In 1907, Dora with Gittel and one other daughter, joined Wolfe Kaimowitz in New York.[1]

When Blanch arrived in the United States as a child, and attended public schools in New York City. In 1914 she graduated from Eastern District High School, however later that year her father died, so she decided to take a job to support her family. She spent fourteen years as a clerk, saving money for school. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics with a minor in Physics from New York University in 1932. The same year she changed her name from Kaimowitz to Blanch, which is her mother's Americanized name. She received her Ph.D. from Cornell University in algebraic geometry in 1935.

Career[edit]

For a while she worked as a tutor in place of a colleague on leave at Hunter College; then, in 1938, she began work on the Mathematical Tables Project of the WPA, for which she was "Director of Mathematics" and "Manager of Computation." This entailed designing algorithms that were executed by teams of human computers und—er her direction. Many of these computers possessed only rudimentary mathematical skills, but the algorithms and error checking in the Mathematical Tables Project were sufficiently well designed that their output defined the standard for transcendental function solution for decades. This project later became the Computation Laboratory of the National Bureau of Standards.

The Mathematical Tables Project became an independent organization following the termination of the WPA at the end of 1942. During World War II, it operated as a major computing office for the US government and did calculations for the Office for Scientific Research and Development, the Army, the Navy, the Manhattan Project and other institutions. Blanch led the group throughout the war.

After the war, Blanch's career was hampered by FBI suspicions that she was secretly a communist. Their evidence for this seems scarce, and included, for example, the observation that she had never married or had children, as well as the fact that her sister was affiliated with the Communist Party.[1] In what must have been a remarkable showdown, the diminutive fifty-year-old mathematician demanded, and won, a hearing to clear her name.

Subsequently, she worked for the Institute for Numerical Analysis at UCLA and the Aerospace Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. She was an early member of the ACM.

Publications[edit]

She published over thirty papers on functional approximation, numerical analysis and Mathieu functions. In 1962, she was elected a Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1964, she received the Federal Woman's Award, an award for women who had exemplary professional service in the United States Government.

  • The Gertrude Blanch Papers (1932-1996)[2]

Honors and awards[edit]

  • Received the Federal Woman's Award (1964)[2]
  • Elected a Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1962)[2]

Later Years[edit]

Blanch retired in 1967 at the age of 69, but continued working under a consulting contract for the Air Force for another year. Thereafter she moved to San Diego and continued to work on numerical solutions of Mathieu functions until her death in 1996, concentrating on the use of continued fractions to achieve highly accurate results in a small number of computational steps. This work has not been published.

The Gertrude Blanch Papers, 1932-1996 are stored at the Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Blanch biography". www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk. Retrieved 2017-02-01. 
  2. ^ a b c "Gertrude Blanch". Retrieved 2017-02-01. 
  • Grier, David Alan, "Gertrude Blanch of the Mathematical Tables Project", Annals of the History of Computing, 19.4 (1997), 18-27.
  • Grier, David Alan, "The Math Tables Project of the Work Projects Administration: the reluctant start of the computing era", Annals of the History of Computing, 20 (1998), 33-50.
  • Grier, David Alan, "When Computers Were Human", 2005.

External links[edit]