Neither would our world.
This week, as Popular Mechanics celebrates the 50th anniversary of the development of the internet, we honor the women who helped shape the way we connect with the world around us. They were early programmers, computer engineers, and even librarians who broke barriers and developed technology that would forever touch our lives.
From Ada Lovelace to Grace Hopper to the hidden figures of the internet like Dorothy Vaughan and Ida Holz, these incredible women deserve recognition for their groundbreaking contributions.
Ada Lovelace, often referred to as the first computer programmer, translated from French (and annotated in detail) the notes of Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea’s treatise on the work of famed mathematician and inventor Charles Babbage.
Her father, the poet Lord Byron, left at an early age, so her mother, a mathematician, ensured that Lovelace was well-educated and schooled in mathematics. At 17, Lovelace met Babbage at a party, and was captivated by his mathematical musings and curious contraptions. She drafted the first computer program, which his analogue calculation machine, the Analytical Engine, could use to calculate Bernoulli numbers.
Mathematician and U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper changed the face of computing as we know it.
In 1943, Hopper joined the U.S. Naval Reserve, where she was assigned to Harvard University’s Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project. There, she began work on the Mark series of computers and coined the term computer “bug” after a moth infiltrated hardware on the Mark I machine. She also worked on the UNIVAC I, the first commercial all-electronic digital computer.
Hopper went on to work for the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corp., which was taken over by Remington Rand in 1951 and Sperry Rand Corp. just five years later. Hopper is known for her work with compilers, software that translates programming languages into computing code.
For example, in 1957, she and her team developed the compiler Flow-Matic, an English-language data-processing compiler. Her translation of complicated systems into easy-to-understand languages made the newly invented technology more accessible.
Dorothy Vaughan got her start in computer science during World War II, when she was hired by NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1943. She used her prowess as a human computer to contribute to a number of wartime efforts.
After the war, in 1949, she was promoted to lead the West Computing department, a group of African American women computers, and was the first African American woman appointed to a managerial role at NACA. She later joined the Analysis and Computation Division, where she became a skilled FORTRAN programmer and worked to prop up other women in the field.
In 1987, Elise Gerich was a project systems manager at the Merit Network, where she was instrumental in expanding the T-1 and T-3 backbones of NSFNET, one of the first networking systems in the U.S. and a predecessor of the early internet. At Merit, Gerich was responsible for connecting a number of research and academic institutions throughout the United States.
Gerich ultimately helped facilitate the transition from NSFNET to commercial Internet Service Providers, and worked at Excite@Home Network, which was one of the first companies to introduce high-speed cable internet around the world. In 2016, she oversaw the internet’s change in ownership from the U.S. Government to the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, an independent international cooperative.
Jean Amour Polly
If you’ve ever spent time in a library, you know how vital its free internet services can be. Free library computers serve as a portal for those who might not have access to the internet’s vast resources. We have Jean Armour Polly to thank for that.
When Polly became the first U.S. librarian to offer computer and internet access to patrons of the Liverpool Public Library in upstate New York, she was an immediate internet icon. “I knew computers would be something that kids would take advantage of,” she told Wired. “But how were their parents supposed to get these skills? Or senior citizens or anyone else in the community?”
Polly cofounded PUBLIB, an online listserv through which library professionals could discuss best practices for using the web. She also wrote one of the first guidebooks for internet usage, Surfing the Web.
Ida Holz helped bring the internet to Latin America. Shortly after she graduated from Universidad de la República in Uruguay, she and her family were exiled to Mexico. Upon her return, Holz directed the Central Computer Service (SECIU) of the Universidad de la República, where she oversaw the implementation of the first node of the internet in Latin America.
She played a leading role in the construction of the Latin American Network Forum, the Latin American and Caribbean Internet Address Registry, the organization of Latin American and Caribbean ccTLDs, and the Latin American Cooperative of Advanced Networks (RedCLARA), according to her Internet Hall of Fame profile.
Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler
Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler got her start managing two different Network Information Centers—first the ARPANET and then the Defense Data Network—both at the Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, California.
She was part of a team that created the first “white” and “yellow page” servers. From 1972 to 1989, she and her colleagues ran the Host Naming Registry, which regulated internet addresses before the likes of GoDaddy and Network Solutions. Additionally, they developed the domain-naming system we use today, which includes .com, .edu., .org and .gov, among others.
Jean Bartik is known for her work in the field of early computer science and software engineering. After graduating from Northwest Missouri State University in 1945, she moved to Philadelphia to work with the U.S. Army.
She was one of six influential women human computers who helped program the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator (ENIAC) computer, widely regarded as the first all-electronic digital computer. Their efforts to program the ENIAC, which computed the trajectories of ballistic missiles, were critical during World War II. It was a difficult job, and the fiery programmer is quoted as saying: “The ENIAC was a son of a bitch to program.”
Yvonne Marie Andrés
Yvonne Marie Andrés pioneered the concept of a global, internet-based education, making lessons accessible to people around the world. In 1984, she founded Global SchoolNet, an international network designed to promote collaborative engagement projects.
Eight years later, Andrés launched Global Schoolhouse, an international organization that connects school children with leaders in the sciences, literature, exploration and politics. She helped establish the first-ever live-streamed television broadcast on the internet, a program called World News Now. (ABC News still runs World News Now as part of itsf late night early morning programming.)
She later launched the Friendship Through Education initiative in partnership with the George W. Bush Administration, which connected American students with others around the world, and founded the Doors to Diplomacy Program, which further promoted diplomacy among the world’s youth.
Anne-Marie Eklund Löwinder
Anne-Marie Eklund Löwinder was instrumental in developing systems that ensure internet users are accessing secure websites. She played a significant role in the development of Domain Name System Security Extensions (DNSSEC), and has since been an internet advocate, promoting internet safety and security around the world.
Eklund Löwinder is currently one of seven people in the world who control the DNSSEC key generation for the internet root zone, which essentially ensures the security of the internet, according to the Guardian. She carries two copies of the physical key, which when put together with the other six, control the world wide web as we know it.
Jean Sammet was an early computer programmer known for her work developing programming languages that spurred a technological revolution.
Sammet graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a degree in Mathematics in 1949 and followed up with a Masters in Mathematics from University of Illinois in 1978. She worked at Sylvania Electric Products from 1958 to 1961, where she headed software development form the Army Signal Corps’ MOBIDIC computer. While there, she also played a pivotal role in creating the business-centric programming language COBOL.
Sammet joined IBM in 1961, where she led the team that developed FORMAC, an important programming language and symbolic mathematics system, and later worked on the development of the company’s Ada programming language. She ultimately worked for IBM for more than 30 years.