Computer Pioneer Honored at Northwest Missouri State

By Jonathan Cooper |

Published 02/24 2014 05:52PM

Updated 02/25 2014 10:57AM

(MARYVILLE, Mo.) Before the world of smart phones and high speed computers, there was the ENIAC.

The ENIAC was developed in the 1940's and used by the United States Army during WWII. It was the world's first successful, electronic computer.

"It was very powerful at the time," said Dr. Jon Rickman, a retired Northwest Missouri State University professor and computer expert.

With men off at war, women were left to program the new machine. Jean Jennings Bartik was one of them.

"She was the world's first programmer," said Kim Todd with Northwest Missouri State.

Jennings Bartik has roots in Northwest Missouri. She attended Stanberry High School and graduated from Northwest Missouri State. The University has a museum dedicated to her that was built in 2002. She also released an autobiography.

"It's important that we encourage more women to be programmers today. We don't have nearly as many as I would like to see. I know Jean really wanted to see more and more," Rickman said.

Jon Rickman and Kim Todd are editors of her autobiography and got to know Jennings Bartik before she died in 2011. They say her autobiography is important for women's history.

"Jean really wanted to encourage young women to go out there and pursue their dreams, particularly those in the sciences," Todd said.

After the war, many men assumed the roles of computer programmers, making it difficult for women like Jennings Bartik to find work in the industry. She helped program the first commercial computer after the war, but along with her female counterparts, was soon forgotten in history.

So before she died, along with the help of Rickman and Todd, Jean Jennings Bartik told her story.

"She wrote this book to correct quite a few errors in other books," Rickman said. "Being there she know what happened."

And now with an autobiography and museum to her name, Jennings Bartik's legacy will live on.

"She's a true pioneer," Rickman said.

You can buy her autobiography online at either Amazon or Barnes and Noble. All proceeds from the book go to Jennings Bartik's scholarship at Northwest Missouri State.

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