Sister Mary Kenneth Keller

Sister Mary Kenneth Keller

Born: 1913, Died: 1985


In 1965, Mary Kenneth Keller was the first woman in the US to be awarded a PhD in Computer Science, having previously studied Mathematics and Physics. Earlier she had taken her vows as a Roman Catholic religious sister in Ohio and in 1958 had started work at Dartmouth College in the male-only (at the time) computer centre.

At Dartmouth Mary worked on developing the BASIC programming language. BASIC is a way of translating the zeroes and ones of computer code into something more intuitive and straightforward. It is a general-purpose, high level programming language which helped broaden computer programming into non maths and science fields, subsequently giving many people their first experience with programming.

Sister Mary later set up the computing department at Clarke College in Iowa, which she then led for twenty years, becoming passionate about the potential for computers to increase access to information and to promote education. She envisioned a world in which computers made people smarter and predicted the information explosion that would happen decades later. Her vision was ahead of her time.

Sister Mary worked hard to forge her own unique path in life and was a passionate advocate for women in computing. The computer centre at Clarke College is called the Keller Computer Centre in her honour.

Sister Keller was one of the women profiled in our Women in Computing Festival 2017 of entitled Where Did All the Women Go?. Click here for the Women in Computing timeline created for that event.




Photograph of Sister Mary Kenneth Keller Click for a larger version

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