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Stella Cunliffe

Stella Cunliffe (1917–2012) was an advocate for increased understanding of the role of human nature in experiments and methodological rigor in social statistics. She was born in Battersea, England. She was the first person from her local public girls’ school to attend college, obtaining a bachelor of science from the London School of Economics. Her first job was with the Danish Bacon Company during World War II, where she was in charge of bacon rations for London. After the war, she moved to Germany and again helped to ration food, this time for refugees.

She then spent a long career in quality control at the Guinness Brewing Company. Cunliffe observed that the weights of rejected casks skewed lighter. Noting that workers had to roll casks that were too light or too heavy uphill to be remade, she had the scales moved to the top of the hill. With workers able to roll rejected casks downhill, the weight of these casks began to follow a normal distribution.

After 25 years at Guinness, Cunliffe joined the British Home Office, where she would go on to become the first woman to serve as director of statistics. During her tenure at the Home Office, she emphasized applying principles of experimental design she had learned at Guinness to the study of such topics as birth rates, recidivism, and criminology. In 1975, she became the first woman to serve as president of the Royal Statistical Society.

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Grace Murray Hopper

Grace Murray Hopper (1906–1992) was a mathematician, computer scientist, and programmer. She was born in New York City and received a BA in mathematics and physics from Vassar College. Hopper went on to teach at Vassar while earning an MA and a PhD in mathematics from Yale. She joined the Navy during World War II and remained in the Naval Reserve during a long career in academia and private industry. In 1967, she was recalled to active duty to direct the Navy’s Programming Languages Group.

Hopper is best known for developing the first compiler. She also worked extensively to develop programming languages and effective programming techniques. Known as “Grandma COBOL”, Hopper led a team that developed some of the first compiler-based programming languages during the 1950s, work that would lead to the development of COBOL. Hopper is also credited with coining the term “debugging” after her team removed a moth from the Mark II computer she was testing. The moth is still on display at the U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center Museum.

Among many honors, Hopper was awarded the first ever “computer sciences man of the year” award in 1969. She was the first person from the United States and the first woman to become a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society. She also received the National Medal of Technology and IEEE Emanuel R. Piore Award. In 1997, the U.S. Navy commissioned the USS Hopper in her honor.

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Isobel Loutit

Isobel Loutit (1909–2009) is known for her work during World War II to improve the accuracy of targeting for anti-aircraft guns and as a contributor to the field of quality control. Loutit was born in Selkirk Manitoba, Canada. She graduated from the University of Manitoba in 1929 with a degree in mathematics and was one of the first women to work as a professional statistician in Canada. After graduation, she obtained a job teaching French. However, because of her training, she served as a substitute math teacher when needed.

When World War II started, Loutit took a job as a quality control statistician at Northern Electric. Shortly after that, the Canadian government advertised for women with technical training to fill jobs that had been vacated by men who had gone to war. She took a position testing equipment for the military. This job eventually returned her to Northern Electric, this time as a government employee verifying the accuracy of Northern Electric’s Vickers anti-aircraft gun predictor, which was used to aim artillery at incoming planes. Recognizing the quality of her work, the CEO of Northern Electric rehired Loutit as an engineer, the only position for which her pay would not be capped as a woman. She later became the first female manager at Northern Electric and the first woman to chair the Montreal Section of the American Society for Quality Control.

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Ada Lovelace

Augusta Ada King, Lady Lovelace (1815–1852), is popularly believed to have written the first computer program. She was born Augusta Ada Byron in London, England. She was the daughter of Lord Byron, a well-known Romantic poet and infamous libertine. Because of her marriage to William King, Count of Lovelace, most people know her informal name, Ada Lovelace.

Shortly after Lovelace’s birth, Lady Byron divorced Lovelace’s father. Attempting to discourage Lovelace from Lord Byron’s poetry, Lady Byron hired private tutors in mathematics and science. One of these tutors introduced Lovelace to Charles Babbage in 1833. Lovelace later translated Menabrea’s article on Babbage’s Analytical Engine. At Babbage’s request, she added her own explanation about the engine’s usefulness. At the time, few scientists recognized that the engine could be programmed to solve specific problems. Lovelace also noted the potential for the engine to use symbols in its computations, anticipating the functionality of modern computers.

Her notes on Menabrea’s work also included algorithms that could be used for computation. Although the first several algorithms are recognized as Babbage’s work, the algorithm to compute Bernoulli numbers is attributed to Lovelace. In honor of this work, the U.S. Department of Defense named the computer language it developed in 1979 “Ada”. The British Computer Society awards a medal and sponsors an annual lecture in her name.

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Margaret E. Martin

Margaret E. Martin (1912–2012) is best known for her work developing the U.S. Current Population Survey (CPS). Martin was born in New York City and had an early love for mathematics. She received a bachelor’s degree in economics from Barnard College and went on to earn an MA and a PhD in economics from Columbia University. Martin began her career in the midst of the Great Depression, working for a New Deal agency in New York to classify employers covered by the unemployment insurance system. Despite having the third highest score on the qualifying civil service exam, she almost did not take the job because she “had been trained by economists primarily, and they had a very low opinion of government work”.

Her work in New York allowed her to later move to the U.S. Bureau of Budget (now the Office of Management and Budget), where she joined the team that developed the CPS. The majority of Martin’s work focused on the CPS, a survey of employment and demographics among U.S. households. She worked to explain differences in previous unemployment survey results derived from sampling businesses. She also oversaw an effort to improve the reliability of information from the CPS by adding questions that addressed labor-force participation and the use of paid and unpaid leave. Today, the CPS is a continuous monthly survey and the primary source of information about characteristics of the U.S. labor force.

In 1973, Martin became the first executive director of the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on National Statistics. She was elected president of the American Statistical Association (ASA) in 1980 and was the first recipient of the ASA’s Founders Award.

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