Jean Sammet passes away at age 89

May 26, 2017 at 7:00 am 1 comment

Jean Sammet passed away on May 21, 2017 at the age of 88. (Thanks to John Impagliazzo for passing on word on the SIGCSE-members list.)  Valerie Barr, who has been mentioned several times in this blog, was just named the first Jean E. Sammet chair of computer science at Mount Holyoke.  I never met Jean, but knew her from her work on the history of programming languages which are among the most fun CS books I own.


GILLIAN: I remember my high school math teacher saying that an actuary was a stable, high-paying job. Did you view it that way?

JEAN: No. I was looking in The New York Times for jobs for women—when I tell younger people that the want ads were once separated by gender, they’re shocked—and actuary was one of the few listed that wasn’t housekeeping or nursing, so I went.Sammet found her way to Sperry. “Everything from there, for quite a while, was self-learned,” she says. “There were no books, courses, or conferences that I was aware of.” For her next move she applied to be an engineer at Sylvania Electric Products—though the job was again listed for men.

Source: Gillian Jacobs Interviews Computer Programmer Jean E. Sammet | Glamour

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  May 26, 2017 at 7:31 am

    The passing of an era! She was a force of nature for making good things happen — very tough and very fair.

    I knew Jean from first meeting her as a fresh grad student at Utah visiting MIT for a couple of days presentations on Doug Ross’s AED language and system. I thought of her as “New York” (I had gone to JHS and HS in New York) and she had that no-nonsense way of moving through the world.

    When I started programming (in the Air Force) in 1961, a lot of the senior programmers were women who had learned to program in the 50s and had acquired quite a bit of experience. I would agree with Jean’s assessment of “essentially no discrimination” — I never saw any, and it was not even an idea that there would be in those days. Being able to program was all that mattered.

    20 years later things were certainly different. And I think even by the end of the 60s (we should ask another force of nature — Adele Goldberg — her opinion). Still, Jean was voted to be the first female president of the ACM in the mid-70s, and as far as I know this was universally thought to be a great idea (and similar feelings some years later when Adele became president).

    In any case, Jean was one of those special unforgettable people who make living more fun and worthwhile.


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