Top Secret Rosies

A clip from the documentary "Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II" directed by LeAnn Erickson

In today's world we think of a computer as a thing, but back in World War II a computer was a person, and in many cases it was a woman.

Tonight Minnesota Film Arts is hosting the screening of "Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II" directed by LeAnn Erickson.

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Erickson says she stumbled across the story while interviewing twin sisters who owned the first women-run real estate agency in Philadelphia, and were key in integrating Philly neighborhoods, or "blockbusting" as it was called.

It turns out those twin sisters - Doris and Shirley Blumberg - had spent their first years out of high school serving their country with their math skills. Their computations of complex ballistic calculations eventually led to the development of the world's first modern supercomputer, ENIAC (short for "Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer").


It's common knowledge that women took on men's jobs in factory lines during World War II, but not many know they also took on jobs involving complex math and science.

The thousands of women who used their mathematical talents to help figure out when to release a bomb from a plane took oaths of secrecy, and didn't even share the details of their work with their family and friends for decades after the war had ended. Erickson's documentary interviews four of them about their experiences, and the work they did happily in service to their country.

Erickson says in large part, their work has gone unrecognized, and unappreciated.

It's harder for us from that distance to understand what daily life was like for women at this time. When I was looking at the ads right before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, there were not only "men only" jobs and "women only" job listings, but as soon as the war happened, and they needed to have all these different high end high tech positions filled, you start seeing all these ads for "women engineers" - where did they think all these women would be coming from if they hadn't had the opportunities beforehand?

While Erickson expects many people to see her documentary as a historical film, she believes the story has even greater relevance for women today.

When you look at the fact that something dismal like 27% of people holding jobs in the high tech industry are women, when 52-53% of all the college graduates are women; it's pretty shocking that they're so underrepresented in a field that's so important. I feel that if girls in high school or even junior high knew that some 18 year old girls helped win WWII because of their math smarts, that the first computer manual was actually written by a woman...that that would actually help inspire them.

"Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II" screens tonight at St. Anthony Main Theaters at 7:15pm. Director LeAnn Erickson will be there to present the film and answer audience questions.