Today we celebrate cryptanalyst and codebreaker Joan Clarke.
Though most know of Joan Clarke’s work through her association with Alan Turing, her own story is also quite extraordinary. Read more about her life in this biography from MacTutor History of Mathematics – University of St Andrews.
Clarke accepted the post and the challenge, agreeing to start work at Bletchley Park in June 1940, after she had completed Part III of the Mathematical Tripos. She arrived at Bletchley Park on 17 June 1940. Her first placement was humble enough, joining a large group of women, generally referred to as “the girls” who were engaged in routine clerical work in Hut 8. Even though the ratio of women to men working at Bletchley Park was 8:1, women were mostly employed in clerical and administration work and not the more intricate cryptology, which was a male dominated area. During her time at Bletchley Park, Clarke only ever knew of one other female mathematical cryptanalyst. Clarke was originally paid £2 a week – but as this was an era of female discrimination in the workplace, similarly qualified men received significantly more money.
Clarke’s first promotion at work was to Linguist Grade – even though Clarke did not speak another language – this promotion was engineered to enable her to earn extra money – thereby acknowledging her workload and contributions to the team. Clarke has written that she :-
… enjoyed answering a questionnaire with ‘Grade: Linguist, Languages: none!
She believed she struggled to get a further promotion purely because of her sex. The Deputy Director at Bletchley Park, Commander Edward Travis, later told her that she might have to enroll in the WRNS (Women’s Royal Naval Service) in order to earn significantly more money, but Clarke did not wish to pursue this route.
In Hut 8, Clarke was quickly promoted to her own table in a small room, joining a team which included Alan Turing, Tony Kendrick and Peter Twinn. Collectively they were applying themselves to non-routine tasks of trying to break the complex Naval Enigma – codenamed Dolphin.
Happy Ada Lovelace Day! Today, in honor of Ada Lovelace, the world celebrates all of the accomplishments of women in science, art, design, technology, engineering, and math. Each year, Adafruit highlights a number of women who are pioneering their fields and inspiring women of all ages to make their voices heard. Today we will be sharing the stories of women that we think are modern day “Adas” alongside historical women that have made impacts in science and math.