As a professional reference librarian and amateur history buff at NIST, I have had the opportunity to become acquainted with all kinds of extraordinary individuals. In particular, I have been struck by the number of women who made important contributions to the development of the earliest electronic computers. One of my favorites is Ida Rhodes.
Rhodes, a NIST mathematician and computer expert from 1940-1975, designed the C-10 language used by one of the earliest computers, the UNIVAC 1. She also worked on computer translation of Russian, gave lectures to government agencies and private firms to promote the computers’ ability to make their work more efficient, and taught computer coding to people with physical disabilities.
In 1977, she developed an algorithm for computing the dates of the Jewish holidays that is still used today.
In Rhodes’ biographical file from the NIST Archives, there is a Newsweek article from Oct. 24, 1960, entitled “Machines are This Smart.” It tells the story of “water goatism,” which was a problem in machine translation that she worked to solve.
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