The Untold Story of the Six Women Who Programmed the World’s First Modern Computer
A fascinating, forgotten story of the six brilliant women who launched modern computing.
As the Cold War began, America’s race for tech supremacy was taking off. Experts rushed to complete the top-secret computing research started during World War II, among them six gifted mathematicians: a patriotic Quaker, a Jewish bookworm, a Yugoslav genius, a native Gaelic speaker, a sophomore from the Bronx, and a farmer’s daughter from Missouri. Their mission? Programming the world’s first and only supercomputer—before any code or programming languages existed.
These pioneers triumphed against sexist attitudes and huge technical challenges to invent computer programming, yet their monumental contribution has never been recognised—until now. Over a decade, Kathy Kleiman met with four of the original six ENIAC Programmers and recorded their stories. Here, with a light touch and a serious mind, she exposes the deliberate erasure of their achievements and restores the women to their rightful place as revolutionaries, bringing to life their camaraderie, their determination, and their rapidly changing world.
As big tech struggles with gender inequality and momentum builds in restoring women to history, the time has come for this engrossing story to be uncovered and celebrated.
‘Kleiman has a novelist’s gift for crafting a page-turning narrative, and the one on offer is both revelatory and inspiring. Fans of Dava Sobel’s The Glass Universe and Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures are in for a treat.’ — Publishers Weekly (starred review)
‘An important and inspiring little-known narrative in modern computing history.’ — Kirkus Reviews
‘Everyone told Kathy Kleiman that the women she sought did not exist. Thankfully, she didn’t believe them. In Proving Ground, Kleiman pursues her subjects with the instincts of an investigative journalist, uncovering the stories of six groundbreaking women who battled sexism, complex trajectory equations, and blown vacuum tubes in order to program the world’s first digital computer. With unforgettable prose, Kleiman blends the history of early computing with the lives of the women who made modern programming possible. Proving Ground is a book so deeply inspiring that it has the power to completely alter how we see the technology field and the role of women within it.’ — Nathalia Holt, New York Times bestselling author of Rise of the Rocket Girls
‘With this book, Kathy Kleiman restores the ENIAC 6 to their rightful, lauded place in the history of computing. The bond she developed with these women through her years of research and interviews is evident, as each of them comes vibrantly and vividly alive in her writing. Their story will serve as inspiration for generations of women in STEM.’ — Keith O’Brien, New York Times bestselling author of Fly Girls
Kathy Kleiman is a leader in Internet law and policy, teaching at American University Washington College of Law. She founded the ENIAC Programmers Project, whose documentary The Computers premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival, and won the Grand Jury Award For Best Short Documentary at the United Nations Association Film Festival.