Inspiring Women in History: Kathleen McNulty, a Pioneer of the Computer Revolution

Kathleen 'Kay' McNulty Mauchly Antonelli, born in Donegal, where our lovely Lottie HQ is based, is one of six original computer programmers of ENIAC, the first electric, general-purpose computer.

 

Kathleen was a pioneer of the computer revolution, and one of the original programmers of the first electronic computer, ENIAC. She was born in Cresslough in 1921, and moved to Pennsylvania, in the United States with her family when she was a young child. After graduating school she attended Chestnut Hill College for Women, taking every available maths course the college offered! She graduated with a Degree in Mathematics in 1942.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

 

Kathleen began her career as a human 'computer', using mechanical desk calculators to compute missile trajectories in aid of the war effort - each gun required its own firing table, which had about 1,800 trajectories, and each trajectory required 30 - 40 hours of work on a calculator!

 

Kathleen worked her way up the ranks, proving herself time and time again with calculations. She was invited to work on the high-speed machines which were being secretly developed as part of the war effort, this was ENIAC, the first general-purpose electric computer. ENIAC stands for Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer, and Kathleen was one of the first programmers ever on this electronic computer. The women taught themselves how to program, and were able to then perform calculations in 15-seconds.

 

Photo Credit: Donegal Diaspora

 

During her time working, she met one of the ENIAC co-founders, John W. Malachy, who she went on to marry in 1948 and raised seven children with him. Outside of work and marriage, she was also an active volunteer, taking part in her community school as a substitute teacher, and with the Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts as Den Leader.

Kathleen and John Mauchly Wedding

Kathleen would later remarry American-Italian photographer Severo Antonelli in 1985. Kathleen herself outlived both her husbands and continued her ENIAC legacy into later life by giving talks, writing articles and interviewing with reporters alongside her life-long best friend Jean Jennings Bartik, whom she worked with as a computer programmer on ENIAC.

 

For many years she was honoured as the widow of John Malachy but finally, in 1997, she was recognised for her own contribution to computer history and was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame (WITI). A Medal in Computer Science is named in her honour also, in the Letterkenny Institute of Technology, which she visited during a tour in 1999.

Photo Credit: WITI Hall of Fame 1997

 

Kathleen passed away in 2006, but she will be remembered for living a long and successful life: both as a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother - and as a pioneer in computer programming, where she will go down in history as a historical figure.

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