Adele Katz Goldstine


Adele Goldstine was a computer programmer in the mid-20th century, famous for writing one of the earliest computer programs and wrote the technical description for the ENIAC.

Adele was born as Adele Katz on 21st December, 1920 in a Jewish family in New York City. She was one of the two daughters of William Katz, who was a successful retail businessman. She attended Hunter College High School in New York City and then went to Hunter College. With a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics she joined the University of Michigan and obtained a Master’s degree in Mathematics. It was during this time that she met Herman Golstine, the mathematician and computer scientist who was also one of the original developers of the ENIAC. He was teaching at Michigan at that time before joining the army as the liaison officer and project overseer after the U.S. entered the World War II. In 1941, Adele and Herman Goldstine got married.

In 1942 Adele Goldstine joined the Moore School when her husband was appointed as the project manager of the ENIAC. The Moore School at UPenn was funded by the US Army during the Second World War. Here a group of about 80 women worked manually calculating ballistic trajectories - complex differential calculations. These women were called ‘computers’. In 1945, the Army decided to fund an experimental project – the first all-electronic digital computer and six of the women ‘computers’ were selected to be its first programmers. The ENIAC was the first all-electronic digital computer, a huge machine of forty black 8-foot panels. The programmers had none of the programming tools of today and it was a challenge to make the ENIAC work. The six programmers had to physically conduct the ballistic program using 3000 switches and dozens of switches and digital trays to route the data and program pulses through the machine. They used analog technology to calculate ballistic trajectory equations.

Adele Goldstine was the ENIAC’s first programmer and wrote the manual on its logical operation. It was she who recruited and taught programming to the other women – the six ‘computers’. Years later, one of them - Betty Jennings - in an interview recalled the first time she attended a class on inverse interpolation at the Moore school taught by Goldstine with a cigarette in her mouth. Adele wrote the detailed Operators Manual for the ENIAC around 1945. In 1946, she implemented Dick Clippinger’s stored program modification to the ENIAC. So the programmers no longer had to manually plug and unplug cables for reprogramming every time but the computer was able to perform a set of fifty stored instructions. Initially the ENIAC was classified. In 1946, the ENIAC computer was unveiled before the public and the press.

After the war, Herman Goldstine joined the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton to work with physicist John von Neumann. Adele also moved to Princeton with her husband but continued her programming work as she was hired to work on the ENIAC stored-program project from Princeton. After having two children in 1953 and 1960, she was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1964 at the age of forty-three.

References: 1) Autumn Stanley, Mothers and Daughters of Invention: Notes for a Revised History of Technology, Rutgers University Press, 1995 2) W. Barkley Fritz, ‘The Women of the ENIAC’, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 18, No. 3, 1096