Ida Rhodes

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Filming of Ida Rhodes (left) at IBM. National Bureau of Standards (NBS) mathematician and computer expert Ida Rhodes demonstrates her pioneering work in computer translation of languages. Rhodes was among the first to realize the importance of parsing sentences and separating the roots of words from their prefixes and suffixes as initial steps in the process of computer translation.

Ida Rhodes (born Hadassah Itzkowitz; May 15, 1900 – February 1, 1986[1]) was an American mathematician who became a member of the clique of influential women at the heart of early computer development in the United States.


Hadassah Itzkowitz was born in a Jewish village between Nemyriv and Tulchyn in the Ukraine. She was 13 years old in 1913 when her parents, David and Bessie Sinkler Itzkowitz, brought her to the United States (her name was changed upon entering the U.S.)[1]


Rhodes was awarded the New York State Cash Scholarship and a Cornell University Scholarship[1] and began studying mathematics at Cornell University only six years after coming to the United States, from 1919-1923.[1] During her time at Cornell University she worked as a nurse's aid at Ithaca City Hospital. She was elected to the honorary organizations Phi Beta Kappa (1922) and Phi Kappa Phi (1923).[1] She received her BA in mathematics in February, 1923 and her MA in September of the same year, graduating Phi Beta Kappa.

Rhodes had her first encounter with Albert Einstein in 1922 and in 1936 encountered him again in 1936 at Princeton, where a group of mathematicians traveled to spend the weekend in informal seminars. She later studied at Columbia University in 1930-31. She held numerous positions involving mathematical computations before she joined the Mathematical Tables Project in 1940, where she worked under Gertrude Blanch, whom she would later credit as her mentor.

Ida Rhodes was a pioneer in the analysis of systems of programming, and with Betty Holberton designed the C-10 programming language in the early 1950s for the UNIVAC I. She also designed the original computer used for the Social Security Administration. In 1949, the Department of Commerce awarded her a Gold Medal for "significant pioneering leadership and outstanding contributions to the scientific progress of the Nation in the functional design and the application of electronic digital computing equipment".

Though she retired in 1964, Rhodes continued to consult for the Applied Mathematics Division of the National Bureau of Standards until 1971. Her work became much more widely known after her retirement, as she took the occasion to travel around the globe, lecturing and maintaining international correspondence. In 1976, the Department of Commerce presented her with a further Certificate of Appreciation on the 25th Anniversary of UNIVAC I, and then at the 1981 Computer Conference cited her a third time as a "UNIVAC I pioneer." She died in 1986.

In an unusual case of an old specialized algorithm still in use, and still credited to the original developer, Rhodes was responsible for the "Jewish Holiday" algorithm used in calendar programs to this day.[2][3] While at the National Bureau of Standards (now NIST), she also did original work in machine translation of natural languages.[4][5]


  1. ^ a b c d e Morrow, Charlene; Perl, Teri (1998-01-01). Notable Women in Mathematics: A Biographical Dictionary. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 180. ISBN 9780313291319.
  2. ^ Rapp, Katie. "Ida Rhodes and the Problem with 'Water Goats'". Taking Measure. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  3. ^ Rhodes, Ida (1977). "Computation of the dates of the Hebrew New Year and Passover". Computers and Mathematics with Applications. 3 (3): 183–190. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  4. ^ Rhodes, Ida; Alt, Franz L. (1962). "Hindsight technique in machine translation of natural languages" (PDF). Journal of Research of the National Bureau of Standards. 66B (2): 47–51. Retrieved 3 March 2018.
  5. ^ Rhodes, Ida (1963). "Syntactic integration carried out mechanically". Information Storage and Retrieval. 1 (4): 215–219. Retrieved 3 March 2018.


  • National Institute of Standards and Technology virtual museum
  • Blanch Anniversary Volume, February 21, 1967
  • Charlene Morrow and Teri Peri (eds), Notable Women in Mathematics, Greenwood Press, 1998, pp. 180–85

Further reading[edit]

  • Grier, David Alan. "Ida Rhodes and the dreams of a human computer". IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. 22 (1): 82–85. doi:10.1109/85.815468.