Women in Computing Gallery opens in UK’s National Museum of Computing

11 Sep 2013

The Women in Computing Gallery. Photo via TNMOC

Britain’s National Museum of Computing has opened up a new Women in Computing Gallery to highlight the pioneering role of women in the development of computing and to inspire more young girls to join their ranks.

The decision to create the Women in Computing Gallery came when the museum discovered that only 10pc of its student visitors coming from schools and colleges on its Learning Programme were female.

The gallery, which is sponsored by Google UK, was opened by tech entrepreneur Dame Stephanie Shirley as part of a Heroines of Computing event at the museum in Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire.

Future Human

No stranger to the lack of women in tech, Dame Shirley adopted the name ‘Steve’ to help her in a male-dominated industry. She founded software company FI Group (now Xansa) where she predominantly employed women, turning the tables on statistics with only three male programmers out of about 300.

Other guests at the event included Sophie Wilson, co-designer of the BBC Micro and the ARM chip; Joyce Wheeler, one of the first academics to use a computer (EDSAC) for research; Mary Coombs, the first female commercial programmer (using LEO); and Margaret Bullen, who worked on the wiring on the original Colossus computers.

Multimedia exhibition

The stories of these women and many are more are on display using interactive digital signage in the Women in Computing Gallery. The multimedia exhibitions uses six large touchscreens to give visitors access to videos, photographs and graphics documenting the contribution of women to computing. The familiar interface is based on tablet computers and content is hosted in the cloud.

Because of its digital nature, the gallery can be easily updated as more information and material becomes available, with several new videos already in the making. The role of women in computing will not be segregated to this gallery, either, and the museum has ensued their stories are told throughout its walls.

There are also physical artefacts and memorabilia to be observed in the gallery, including a reproduction of a scrapbook from Dame Shirley’s career, comptometers, pre-computing calculators that were mainly operated by women and the first Assembly language programming book, which was written by Kathleen Booth.

Dame Stephanie Shirley opens Women in Computing Gallery (photo by Robert Dowell)

Dame Stephanie Shirley opens the Women in Computing Gallery by cutting punched paper tape. Photo by Robert Dowell

“Girls must take advantage of the revival of computing in schools and recognise and grab the opportunities that our wonderful sector offers. Britain’s economy demands that women are not just consumers, but rather creators of new technologies and applications,” said Dame Shirley. “This new Women in Computing gallery at TNMOC will promote positive role models for women and so encourage girls and women in critical thinking and engineering. It shows the heroines of computing as historic facts to inspire the upcoming generation.”

Women Invent Tomorrow is Silicon Republic’s year-long campaign to champion the role of women in science, technology,engineering and maths

Elaine Burke is the editor of Silicon Republic