5th March 2021
As we approach International Women's Day (IWD) on 8th March 2021, we are looking forward to celebrating LEO's history in a very modern way using a technology that is helping us all through the current global pandemic - via Zoom (video conferencing). In a special online event timed to coincide with IWD we are celebrating the role that women played in the development and running of LEO computers, by bringing together women who worked with and on the various LEOs, whether as programmers, operators, engineers, on the secretarial or admin. side or in any other LEO role.
This is the LEO Computers Society's first women-only event and here at the 'Swiss Rolls' project we look forward to hearing the perspectives of the 'lionesses' who contributed to the history of this remarkable machine.
From Mary Coombs, who is the daughter of Lyons' own physician Dr Blood and who became the first female commercial computer programmer in the world, to Gloria Guy who started work in Lyons' catering office before working on data prep for LEO, there will be stories abound at the Zoom forum.
Planning for the event has led the project team to reflect on some of the amazing stories we've collected so far from women involved with LEO too. For example, Cynthia Reid, who was recruited by John Pinkerton to work in LEO's engineering design department at Minerva Road in Park Royal, north west London and who later moved to IBM. Cynthia commented that there were no other women engineers at Minerva Road, but this was a situation she was entirely accustomed to and never really thought about. She had been the only female undergraduate in the 2000-strong Engineering Faculty at Cambridge too, as well as the first and only woman member of the Cambridge University Air Squadron (she believes there were no more until the 1980s), the only female pilot at Yeadon (now Leeds and Bradford) Flying Club where she got a scholarship to attain her PPL whilst still at school and the only woman in the LEO motor cycling group where she rode a scarlet Norton 600cc Dominator! She says being 'the only one' was just a fact of life that she accepted without question - and she is happy to say that she has never experienced prejudice on this account (although she did have to ceaselessly pester the Air Ministry for 2 years before she was finally accepted into the Air Squadron - even with her pilot licence). We think stories like Cynthia's deserve much greater recognition.
Another woman we think deserves more recognition is Mavis Hinds. Mavis worked for the Met. Office and used LEO I for weather forecasting – the earliest use of computers for modelling the weather in the early 1950s. She became an expert in writing, running and correcting computer programs for weather forecasting. She was seen at that time as one of the first prominent female meteorologists and also the first to play a leading role in the development of Numerical Weather Prediction, not only in the UK but also worldwide.
We're hoping that a focus on the women in the LEO story might help us identify some of the women in photos in our LEO archive too. We have a series of them where there is simply no record of who the women are! If you can identify any of the women in these photos please let us know.
With grateful thanks to Hilary Caminer for organising the zoom forum on IWD. Hilary is the daughter of David Caminer, one of the giants of the LEO story and she grew up with LEO. Hilary was instrumental in saving and then lodging with CCH her late father's papers.
Posted by: Lisa McGerty