Alexandra Forsythe

Alexandra Forsythe
Death date
Associated organizations
Boeing, Stanford
Fields of study
Computer science


Alexandra Winifred Illmer was born on May 20th, 1918 in Newton, MA. She earned her bachelors degree in mathematics from Swarthmore College, and met her husband George Forsythe, who she married on June 14th, 1941. Alexandra and George both were accepted into Brown University's mathematics PhD program, however Alexandra did not finish at Brown and instead enrolled in a masters program at Vassar college, which she completed in 1941. After teaching at Vassar, Forsythe left for Douglas Aircraft in the aerodynamics division, where she was put in charge of computing airfoils and pressures on airfoils.

Through she only stayed at Douglas for about a year, Forsythe was exposed to computation by using desk calculators. In 1947, the Forsythes were employed by Boeing and Alexandra learned to program the Standards Western Automatic Computer, which was completed in 1950. In 1957, George began to teach at Stanford, and Alexandra taught calculus at Cubberly High for three years, integrating computing methods into her classroom. Forsythe accepted a teaching position at Stanford, and helped George establish the computer science program at Stanford in 1965. In 1969 she published Computer Science: A First Course, generally referred to as the first computer science textbook. Forsythe later taught at the University of Utah where she developed a computer science course modelled after Johnnie Johnston's diagram methods. In 1978 she published Programming Language Structures with Elliott I. Organick.

Forsythe died on January 2nd, 1980 at her home on the Stanford campus.