The Top Secret Rosies

Ever heard of the ”Top Secret Rosies”? These human computers (all women mathematicians!) were recruited by the U.S. army during World War II to undertake secret research. To mark Victory in Europe Day, DiscovHER takes a look at these women, who were, until recently, virtually forgotten!

In 1942, the Moore School of Engineering of the University of Pennsylvania, which was being funded by the US Army during World War II, began recruiting human “computers” to manually calculate ballistics trajectories to give to soldiers in the field and bombardiers. As the country witnessed widespread male enlistment in the military, the Moore School turned their attention to women in high school and college who demonstrated strong skills in math. About 80 women were hired for this secret mission, using complex differential calculations to create these ballistics manuals. However, their contributions to the war effort were not widely recognized at the time.

In 2010, a filmmaker named LeAnn Erickson released a documentary called Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II, finally telling the story of these women and their participation in the war. She remarked “there were lots and lots of women, thousands of women doing this kind of work all across the United States… we just don’t know it”.

Six of the Top Secret Rosies, including Jean Jennings Bartik, went on to program the Electronic Numerical Integrator Analyzer and Computer (ENIAC for short), the first all-electronic digital computer, but again, their contributions went largely unrecognized at the time. The media attention all focused on the men who built the computer, leaving out the women who programmed it.

DiscovHER is proud to celebrate these pioneering women, who, for many years, did not receive the credit and praise they deserved. What other women scientists would you like to celebrate for their work? Let us know @4womeninscience

For Women in Science

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