The National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park has opened a gallery celebrating the pioneering role of women in computer history, with the aim of encouraging more women to take up a career in the field.
The museum felt the move was in order after discovering only 10 per cent of students on its acclaimed Learning Programme educational courses were female.
The Women in Computing Gallery, sponsored by Google UK, uses the latest interactive digital signage display technology to present a multimedia tribute to female pioneers of computing. Six large touchscreens offer intuitive interactive access to videos, photographs, graphics and text telling many of the little-known stories of women in computing.
“Britain's economy demands that women are not just consumers, but rather creators of new technologies and applications,” said technology entrepreneur Dame Stephanie Shirley when officially opening the gallery.
Dame Shirley founded a global software company in 1962, and would bid for contracts using a man's name ‘Steve’ to overcome sexist attitudes towards women running their own businesses
“This new Women in Computing gallery will promote positive role models for women and so encourage girls and women in critical thinking and engineering,” Dame Shirley continued.
Artefacts on display include Dame Shirley’s scrapbook, comptometers (sophisticated pre-computing calculators, operated mainly by women) and memorabilia such as the first Assembly language programming book written by academic Kathleen Booth, and a personally-engraved handpunch machine of a Miss IP Williams who worked on the celebrated Powers-Samas tabulating machines.
“As a company we're committed to encouraging more young people to explore the opportunities in computing. One of the challenges faced by girls in particular is a perceived lack of role models, a problem we hope this gallery can help redress,” said Peter Barron, head of External Relations at Google.
“With the support of Google we have created this highly dynamic gallery which by a few keystrokes can be updated with information and videos as they become available,” explained Chris Monk, learning co-ordinator at the National Museum of Computing.
“At Saturday's event, for example, we collected more of the history from the pioneers themselves and already several new videos are now being edited for display,” Monk continued.
The women pioneers who were present include Sophie Wilson, co-designer of the BBC Micro and the ARM chip, Joyce Wheeler, one of the first academics to use a computer (EDSAC) for research, Mary Coombs, the first female commercial programmer (using LEO), and Margaret Bullen, who worked on the wiring of the original Colossus computers.
"Women's part in the history of computing will not be confined to this new gallery, as the museum grows their stories will be embedded throughout the museum,” said Monk.
The museum encourages anyone with information relevant to the history of women in computing to contact them: firstname.lastname@example.org