Top secret rosies II: the sisters Doris and Shirley

Top secret Rosies

We continue with the second part of the series Top Secret Rosies. This time it is dedicated to the twin sisters Doris Blumberg Polsky and Shirley Blumberg Melvin, considering that there are more than 80 mathematician women employed at the time to perform ballistic calculations for the army and programming of computers in the Philadelphia Computer Section. It was located at the Moore Electrical Engineering School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Certainly these women were quickly forgotten in spite of the fact that World War II was the best documented war to date. Considering the important role they played in winning it, these women only had to settle for the economic compensation they received. Their salary that was considered very high at the time, about $2000 per year (which may be ridiculous at the moment). Unquestionably they deserved more than this, a wider social recognition at least.

Doris & Shirley - women - mathematics - programming
Doris and Shirley (In the main image, along the rest of programmers of ENIAC).

Doris and Shirley grew up in the Grays Ferry neighborhood of Philadelphia in a Jewish family. They were daughters of Esther and Jacob Blumberg who were owners of a real estate agency. Both graduated in the School Superior of Philadelphia for girls in mathematics. They began like so many other girls of the time in the laboratories of ballistic investigation what was kept secret in the University of Pennsylvania. Without a doubt a great opportunity compared to the limitations that the women who studied a career had at the time.

They collaborated soon six days a week to produce materials for the US Army. Both stood out for their mathematical skills, which led the army to entrust them with the task of programming a differential analyzer. This is a large mechanical analog computer that could perform in 15 minutes the differential operations by integration that would take a person 40 hours. The analyzer was the calculating machine that predetermined the ENIAC.

differential analyzer mathematic calculations

Doris and Shirley also helped to found the Allens Lane Art Center and West Mt V Airy Neighbors. They devoted much of their lives to humanitarian and social work against sexism and for equality. Thank you! Even today, the documentaries we talked about in the first installment continue inspiring many women and making girls not to lose quickly the interest in mathematics …

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