By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Gloria Gordon Bolotsky, 87, a programmer in the 1940s for the first general-purpose electronic computer, the ENIAC, died June 30 of cancer at her daughter's home in Gaithersburg. She was a Rockville resident.
Mrs. Bolotsky, then known as Gloria Ruth Gordon, was one of the 100 or so programmers who joined the project after six women did the original programming. The work required stamina, creativity and patience: The ENIAC, or Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, was 150 feet wide, filling a 30-by-50-foot room, with about 18,000 vacuum tubes, 3,000 switches and 20 banks of flashing lights.
The ENIAC was designed to calculate artillery firing tables for the U.S. Army's Ballistic Research Laboratory, but its first actual use was to make calculations for the hydrogen bomb.
She was a gifted mathematician who, after working for the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York, moved to the University of Pennsylvania for a position at its engineering school. She was chosen for a secret project that would use her skills and moved with the group in 1947 to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland.
She met her husband, a metallurgist, there, married in 1948 and eventually settled in Rockville to raise a family. She taught math to disadvantaged high school students in the Towson area for a year in the late 1950s and went to work in 1963 as a computer scientist at the old National Bureau of Standards in Gaithersburg, where she was employed for 20 years.
At the bureau, now known as the National Institute of Standards, Mrs. Bolotsky worked on standards analysis for computer networking, embedding networks in common carriers such as telephone systems, cost optimization techniques and a programmers manual for a map-plotting program, said her former colleague Zella Ruthberg-Silverstein.
Born July 28, 1921, in New York, she grew up in Brooklyn. She worked in a meat-packing plant and attended nursing school before graduating in math from Brooklyn College.
When she was tapped for the ENIAC project, she was relieved, her daughters said, because she narrowly missed being assigned to work on the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb.
An unassuming woman whose life centered around her family, she loved to sing and play the piano. When she recently saw a much-reproduced Army photo of her and a co-worker wiring the right side of the ENIAC with a new program she said: "Great! Now everyone gets to see my big butt!"
One of her daughters, Mavis Bolotsky, died in 1979. Her husband of 49 years, Max Bolotsky, died in 1998.
Survivors include four daughters, Susan Konick of Annapolis, Lois Bolotsky of Rockville, Robin Carroll of Poolesville and Nita Lemanski of Gaithersburg; and eight grandchildren.