This book celebrates an eclectic mix of women who have contributed significantly to the world of computing over three centuries – from Nicole-Reine Lepaute, born in 1723, to the youngest of the women chosen, Joy Buolamwini, born in 1989. It provides a selection of talent and achievement, in concise biographical cameos, presented alphabetically.

Diversity is recognised through inclusion of women from a spread of nations. The subjects chosen are predominantly from the United States, or moved there (like Kay Antonelli, from Ireland; Shafi Goldwasser, from Israel; Janie Tsao, from Taiwan; Lixia Zhang, from China; Timnit Gebru, from Ethiopia; Vera Molnár and Klára Dán, from Hungary; and Irma Wyman, from Germany).

There are also women from Canada, or who moved there (like Joy Buolamwini, from Ghana); from a range of European countries – France, Austria, Slovakia, Russia, Hungary, Greece, Portugal and Germany; from the United Kingdom, or who moved there (like Stephanie Shirley, from Germany); from India, China and Australia. Diversity is also recognised through celebrating the achievements of pioneering black women (Evelyn Granville, Katherine Johnson, Timnit Gebru); two transgender women (Lynn Conway and Sophie Wilson); and Megan Smith, reportedly one of the most influential LGBT people in the US.

The world of computing celebrated in the cameos of the women included is written broadly. It spans contributions in mathematics, data analysis and calculation; computer design and programming; software and computer language design (like Mary Hawes, COBOL; Beatrice Worsley, Transcode; and Radia Perlman, who developed a child-friendly version (TORTIS) of the educational robotics language LOGO); human-computer interactions; robotics and artificial intelligence; applications of computing in a wide range of fields (including, like Joan Ball) in computer dating and social networking; teaching and textbooks across the range of information technology, computer science and related fields (like Lynn Conway, Joëlle Coutaz, Sandra Forsyth, Rózsa Péter, Janet Taylor and Kateryna Yushchenko); cryptography (Shafi Goldwasser), crystallography (Eleanor Dodson and Dorothy Hodgkin) and astronomy (like Mary Blagg, Henrietta Leavitt, Nicole-Reine Lepaute, Maria Mitchell, Janet Taylor and Anna Winlock).

There is also the design of icons (Suan Kare); the legal protection of intellectual property in the computing world (Susan Nycum); and contributions in the ever-expanding corporate side of the computing and information technology sectors (like Ruth Amonette, Carol Bartz, Adele Goldberg, Margaret Hamilton, Sandra Kurtzig, Marissa Mayer, Ginni Rometty and Megan Smith).

The earliest women included were brilliant mathematicians who applied their talents to the complex calculations in the application of Charles Babbage’s device (Ada Lovelace) and astronomy. The Second World War opened up the opportunity for a number of the women included, as ‘human computers’, doing manual calculations of things like firing tables for guns and ballistic missile trajectories. Six of the women included were the group of such ‘computers’ in the mid-1940s, associated with ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), built by the US Army. These included Kay Antonelli (McNulty), Jean Bartik, Bety Holberton, Frances Spence, Ruth Teitelbaum and Marlyn Meltzer (Wescoff). In 1997 all were inducted into the Women in Technology Hall of Fame.

Two of the women were part of the Bletchley Park code-breakers, a British government cryptological establishment in operation during the Second World War – Mavis Batey and Ann Mitchell. A further two launched self-help groups to advance networking. After attending Symposium on Operating Systems Principles in 1987, and finding only a few women present, Anita Borg and a group of other women attendees developed the ‘Systers mailing list’, a private, safe online forum for women involved in technical aspects of computing. Timnit Gebru founded ‘Black in AI’, a community of black researchers working in artificial intelligence, after seeing that she was the only black woman out of 8,500 delegates at an AI conference in 2016.

Many have been recognised and celebrated in documentaries (like Joy Buolamwini, whose research into AI inaccuracies in face recognition is the subject of the 2020 documentary film, Coded Bias), biographies and special editions of journals (like Lynn Conway, Maria Petrou and Dana Ulery). Ellen Ochua was featured in the episode ‘Astronaut Ellen Ochoa’, in a children’s TV program.  Some wrote autobiographies – like Jean Bartik, Sandra Kurtzik and Hedy Lamarr.

Dorothy Hodgkin won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1964; and Barbara Liskov (2008) and Shafi Goldwasser (2012) won the equivalent of a Nobel in the computing world, the AM Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery.

There are many inductees into Halls of Fame, including the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame (the ENIAC group of six women, 1997; Adele Goldberg, 2010;) the National Inventors Hall of Fame (Erna Hoover, 2008; Hedy Lamarr, 2014; Edith Clarke, 2015; Radia Perlamn, 2016); the Electronic Design Hall of Fame (Lynn Conway, 2002); the Internet Hall of Fame (Elizabeth Feinler, 2012; Hu Qiheng, 2013;  Radia Perlman, 2014) the National Women’s Hall of Fame (Katherine Johnson, 2021); and the International Air and Space Hall of Fame (Ellen Ochoa, 2018).

There are also many winners of awards for pioneers: the IEEE Computer Pioneer Award (Betty Holberton, 1997; Jean Bartik, 2008; Lynn Conway, 2009; Jean Sammet, 2009); the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award (Anita Borg; Hedy Lamarr); and the Pioneer in Tech award of the National Center for Women in Technology (Katherine Johnson, 2015; Lynn Conway, 2019; and Cynthia Solomon, 2016).

There are also many ‘firsts’ among the selected subjects. For example, in 1847, Maria Mitchell was the first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1926, Edith Clarke was the first woman to present a paper before the American Institute of Electrical Engineers and the first woman elected as a Fellow of the precursor to the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers. In 1950, Kateryna Yushchenko became the first woman in the USSR to become a Doctor of Physical and Mathematical Sciences in programming. In 1965, Mary Keller was the first woman in the US to be a awarded a PhD in computer science.

In 1973, Grace Hopper became the first American and the first woman of any nationality to be made a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society. The same year, Rózsa Péter became the first woman elected to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. In 1978, Christiane Floyd became the first woman in Germany to be a professor in the field of computer science. In 2019, Janie Irwin was the first woman to receive the Kaufmann Award of Electronic Design Automation.

A number of the women are featured in the Notable Women in Computing cards, selected after receiving multiple, high-level awards from more than one institution, such as being named a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery, a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and receiving the Turing Award. Those on the cards include: Augusta Ada Lovelace King (King of clubs); Ellen Ochoa (ten of clubs); Jean Bartik (two of clubs); Sophie Wilson (three of clubs); Mary Lou Jepsen (five of clubs); Barbara Liskov (King of hearts); Shafi Goldwasser (Jack of hearts); Mary Jane Irwin (ten of hearts); Irene Greif (nine of hearts); Grete Hermann (seven of hearts); Manuela Veloso (six of hearts); Maria Klawe (Joker); Grace Hopper (Queen of spades); Jean Sammet (seven of spades); Ruth Teitelbaum ( three of spades); Radia Perlman (Ace of spades); Anita Borg (Queen of diamonds); Rozena Bajcsy (six of diamonds); Kay McNulty (two of diamonds); and Lixia Zhang (four of diamonds).

Several women have asteroids and moon craters named after them (Mary Blagg, Henrietta Leavitt, Nicole-Reine Lepaute and Maria Mitchell). Some have ships or spacecraft named in their honour (Maria Mitchell is recognised in the cargo ship SS Maria Mitchell, a Second World War cargo ship; Katherine Johnson – the supply vessel to the International Space Station is named the SS Katherine Johnson; Grace Hopper – the USS Hopper (DDG-70), nicknamed ‘Amazing Grace’, is named in her honour). Ada Lovelace and Anita Borg have medals named after them.

The most unusual of the awards won by women in this volume is the star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, for Hedy Lamarr, for her contributions to the motion picture industry, also posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, for her pioneering work in the field of wireless technology.

A number had later life careers or occupations beyond computing – like Mavis Batey, one of the Bletchley Park codebreakers, who won the Veitch Memorial Medal in 1985 for contributions to the science and practice of horticulture; and Marlyn Meltzer, one of the ENIAC group of women, who devoted her last years to volunteering, including knitting more than 500 chemotherapy hats. Some carried their earlier interests with them throughout their lives, like Ellen Ochoa, and classical flautist and the first Hispanic woman to go into space when she served as a mission specialist on a nine-day mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery STS-56 – taking her flute with her.

Jean Bartik’s enduring advice to young women contemplating a career in computer science was, ‘You should be prepared and work hard –everybody that succeeds must work hard – and open the door when opportunity knocks. Opportunity comes in a lot of different ways. But I do believe that you should enjoy what you do.’ Astronaut Ellen Ochua encouraged young women to set big goals, ‘Don’t be afraid to reach for the stars. I believe a good education can take you anywhere on Earth and beyond!’.

John S. Croucher's book IT Girls: Pioneer Women in Computing is available for purchase now.