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Kathleen McNulty Mauchly Antonelli (1921-2006)
Pioneering Computer Programmer

Kay McNulty Mauchly Antonelli was born Kathleen McNulty on 12 February, 1921 in the Creeslough Gaeltacht. On the night she was born, her father, James, who was an Irish Republican Army Training Officer, was arrested and imprisoned in Derry Gaol for two years. On his release the family emigrated to the United States and settled in Pennslyvannia where James McNulty established a successful stone masonry business.
Kay graduated from Chestnut Hill College in 1942, one of only three mathematics majors in a class of 92 women. That Summer the US Army Women’s Corps placed this advertisement in newspapers across America: "The need for women engineers and scientists is growing both in industry and government... Women are being offered scientific and engineering jobs where formerly men were preferred. Now is the time to consider your job in science and engineering ... you will find that the slogan there as elsewhere is WOMEN WANTED!"
The army wanted women with mathematics degrees to hand calculate the firing trajectories of artillery for the war effort. Consequently Kay was recruited as a human 'computer' and went to work at the Moore School of Engineering at the University of Pennslyvania.
In the basement of the Moore School Kay's future husband and colleague, John Mauchly, was, with co-inventor Presper Eckert, building the world's first electronic computer, the ENIAC.
Kay McNulty
Kay McNulty (1921-2006)
Women program the ENIAC
Women program the ENIAC


Women program the ENIAC
Women program the ENIAC


Kay McNulty & John Mauchly
Kay McNulty & John Mauchly
As the war accelerated the women computers worked 48-hour weeks calculating thousands of firing tables. These were used to improve the accuracy of artillery by including factors, such as air drag, that affected the performance of a weapon. It was tedious work, using a hand calculator the women computed 2,000 trajectories per table with each trajectory taking up to 40 hours. Many of the women recruits dropped out due to the workload but Kay McNulty became prominent among the computing women.
Kay remembers computing during the early years of the War: 'We did have desk calculators, mechanical and driven with electric motors, that could do simple arithmetic. You'd do a multiplication and when the answer appeared, you had to write it down to enter it into the machine to do the next calculation. We were preparing a firing table for each gun, with maybe 1,800 simple trajectories. To hand-compute just one of these trajectories took 30 or 40 hours of sitting at a desk with paper and a calculator. As you can imagine, they were soon running out of young women to do the calculations. Actually, my title working for the ballistics project was 'computer.' The idea was that I not only did arithmetic but also made the decision on what to do next.' In the autumn of 1945 six women computers were chosen to program ENIAC - Kay McNulty; Jean Bartik; Betty Snyder; Marlyn Meltzer; Ruth Teitelbaum and Frances Spence. Initially they were not allowed into the ENIAC room because of the secrecy of the project and instead they had to program the computer from blueprints in an adjacent room.
This involved breaking down complex differential equations into their smallest possible components and calculating the route to the appropiate bank of electronics in parallel progression with each instruction having to reach the correct location in time to within 1/5,000th of a second.
Once they had devised the program on paper, the women were allowed into the ENIAC room to physically program the ENIAC.Using their program ENIAC could add 5,000 numbers or do 14 10-digit multiplications in a second. The ENIAC was 10 feet tall, 80 feet wide, and weighed 30 tons. This computer was programmed by Kay and her fellow computers.
In February 1946 the US Army unveiled ENIAC in a series of public demonstrations. However the women's central role in ENIAC was already being forgotten as their names did not appear in any official US Army records of the demonstrations nor were they mentioned in the US War Department press releases.The New York Times reported the ENIAC demonstration without referring to the women at all: "The ENIAC was then told to solve a difficult problem that would have required several weeks' work by a trained man. The ENIAC did it in exactly 15 seconds."
In 1948 Kay McNulty married John Mauchly and together they raised seven children. John Mauchly and Presper Eckert went on to devise the UNIVAC, the first commercially available computer, which Jean Bartik worked on and which Kay helped program from home.
John Mauchly died in 1980 and in 1985 Kay McNulty married Severo Antonelli, world renowned photographer, who died in 1996.
Commercial uses for computing were introduced in the decade after ENIAC's unveiling and computer technology became important in industry where its growth has been phenomenal. Today it is difficult to imagine a world without computers as they are used in so many areas of our lives.
On the 50th anniversary of the unveiling of ENIAC in 1996 Women in Technology International publicised the work of the ENIAC women on the Internet. Since then they are regularly asked to speak at computer conferences in the United States.
In April/May 1999 Kay McNulty Mauchly Antonelli and Jean Bartik made a Lecture Tour of Computer Science Departments in Universities and Colleges in Ireland and partook in an internet broadcast focusing on their part in the history of computing.
At the Letterkenny Institute of Technology it was announced that the Best Computing Science Student at the Institute each year will be awarded the Kay McNulty Mauchly Antonelli Medal in her honour. On her part in the history of computing Kay says: "It was only when people talked about the wonderful things this machine would eventually be able to do that we realised what a machine! I often say if I had a dime for every computer in the world I sure would be a rich lady." ©

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