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ENIAC Day: Celebrating Women, Feminism, and Tech @Education Commons

Posted on by Sara Vilanova

This piece originally appeared on our Teaching, Research, and Learning Directorate’s blog.

Join us this Friday, February 15th, at the Education Commons for an afternoon of ENIAC Day festivities to celebrate women who get things done!

The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, aka ENIAC, the world’s first electronic general-purpose computer, was developed at the University of Pennsylvania’s Moore School of Electrical Engineering, now the School of Engineering and Applied Science. In recognition of this accomplishment, the Philadelphia City Council officially declared February 15th – the anniversary of the computer’s unveiling – as “ENIAC Day.”

The ENIAC was primarily programmed by a group of six women mathematicians, now known as the ENIAC Six. As pioneers in the world of computing, these women had to teach themselves the inner-workings of the computer with no training or manuals and no programming languages. Although they were responsible for a monumental leap forward in computing, their contributions went largely unrecognized. In fact, none of the women were named in the announcement of their work’s unveiling or invited to the celebratory dinner. Even decades later, many people who saw the women in photographs of the ENIAC believed they were models, and most were not invited to the 50th anniversary celebration.

In the past couple decades, the women programmers of the ENIAC have started to receive some of the recognition they deserve, thanks in part to two documentaries: The Computers and Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of WWIIHowever, despite women’s historic accomplishments in the advancement of technology, there remains a significant gender gap in STEM fields, particularly in computer science and engineering.

This lack of inclusivity in STEM fields is a key consideration for us as we continue to build the Education Commons’ makerspace, the EC TinkerLab. Makerspaces are often dominated by male makers as well as by more technical maker activities. In contrast, many women enter the maker community via arts and crafting. Although these activities frequently incorporate technology, such as 3D printing and microcontrollers (in addition to “lower tech” skills and tools), they are often held in lower regard than maker activities fully focused on “high tech” equipment, such as robotics.

With this in mind, we have developed programming and outreach methods that aim to bolster a community of intersectional women makers. Our spring programming schedule, for example, includes 3D modeling and printing of jewelryAR valentineseTextiles, and DIY stickers and stencils. We also hold Tinker Time open hours regularly; attendees can work with a tool of their choice and/or choose one of our starter projects. These workshops are designed to value inspiration, creativity, and experimentation and embrace the passions of potential makers. Our outreach strategies also prioritize efforts to bring women into the space such as incorporating images of women and emphasizing that beginners are always more than welcome. The TinkerLab seeks to break open the concept of making to cultivate a community of women makers, spark interest in a range of activities, and close the gender gap in makerspaces and beyond.

There is still a long way to go, but as we work toward closing this gap, we want to honor some of the extraordinary women who changed the world of computing and helped shape the technology many of us take for granted today. The Education Commons is pleased to invite you to an afternoon dedicated to celebrating these women! We will kick-off the afternoon at 3pm with a showing of the documentary, Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of WWII. We will also provide snacks and other fun activities such as creating stickers on-demand with our cool cutting tool, the Silhouette Cameo.