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Oral-History:Betty Campbell

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About Betty Campbell

Betty Campbell, a computer programmer for MIT for about forty years, blazed the path for women in computer programming at MIT. She was born and raised in Massachusetts, attending Boston University and receiving a degree in mathematics. She arrived at MIT's Radiation Laboratory in her early twenties where she used her problem-solving skills as a mathematician to contribute to the Lab's ongoing classified projects. At MIT, she worked in the Theory Group, which was part of the Rad Lab. There, Campbell analyzed films that came from radar to see how close planes had come to shooting down other airplanes. She eventually became a supervisory there. She also took several courses at MIT while working there. She worked on the 704 and Whirlwind computers. Campbell also participated in the Joint Computing Group at MIT and the Nuclear Science Lab as well. After retiring from MIT after about forty years, she taught in the Brookline schools in MA. Campbell also worked with the Association for Women in Computing (AWC).

In this interview, Campbell reflects on her career and experiences in computing as a woman in the field, from her start as a young woman working at MIT Rad Lab to how other people viewed and treated the women in her team. She shares her experiences on the several projects she participated in and supervised. She talks about SHARE meetings, her involvement with AWC, and her life after retiring from MIT.

About the Interview

BETTY CAMPBELL: An Interview Conducted by Janet Abbate, IEEE History Center, 13 February 2001

Interview # 581 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Betty Campbell, an oral history conducted in 2001 by Janet Abbate, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEW: Betty Campbell
INTERVIEWER: Janet Abbate
DATE: 13 February 2001
PLACE: Auburndale, MA

Background and Education

Abbate:

Let me start with your family background. When were you born, and where did you grow up?

Campbell:

I was born in Melrose, Massachusetts. I’m very much a local person, and they [my parents] moved around at first from Melrose to Greenwood to Acton, and that was when my father was building a house in Weston. He had selected Weston because at the time, part of it was still quite rural, and it was not as expensive as it is today. [laughs.]

My father was a civil engineer (worked for an insurance company), and my mother was a math teacher, and she was sort of unusual in her day because when she got married, she was working on her Ph.D., which in the early 1900s was not, you know, the norm. Both my mother and father had gone to Syracuse University, where they had met. My father’s father was a minister, and his mother was a very strong woman, and she had decided she was going to keep her family there until she had four children and she got them all through college. And my father was assigned to escort his sister to social affairs—because my grandmother was also going to get her two daughters married off—and his sister was my mother’s best friend; so that was how they got together.

And then, as I say, we moved to Weston, and Weston was sort of an experience for me, because it was old families at the time, and I was . . . Now whether this is true or not, but it was the feeling that I had, that I was the only child in the first grade that the teacher hadn’t had their mother—and the teacher was ancient. Now whether she was as ancient as she looked, I don’t really know. [laughs.] But it was a very good education, because the school was so small. Highly academic; and because my parents were both college graduates, why, they wanted me to be one too. So I was in an academic program. I never learned to type or anything like that, but I had—for example, in Latin, I had as much Latin in two years as the girls in the Boston Latin School had, because there were [only] four or five of us in the class. And while I didn’t take the advanced math, what math I did take was very well taught indeed. It was taught as problem solving. And I think this is why, when I tried teaching myself—and I couldn’t use that same method, that math was problem solving, not learning rules—that I didn’t want to do it.

So then I went to Boston University—and this was, you know, during the Depression; I went in in 1938, and graduated in 1942, just when the war had broken out. As I said, I had planned to teach, but then I realized that somebody with a math degree had an advantage. And I went to one of the professors in the math department who actually was working on getting women into doing war work (calculations and things); and he had a friend, a Doctor [Alfred] Loomis, who was the personnel man for the Radiation Laboratory at MIT, which was the laboratory that did all the radar development. So I went over there, and that was where my work experience started; and in fact I stayed with MIT for forty-odd years. I lived at home at first, and then have lived around in various local places: Cambridge, Brookline, and then eventually moved here, to Lasell Village, because of the fact that they have an educational program here, and because of the fact that the location was so close to where I had grown up; also close to transportation and things like this. So I’ve been here since July 7, 2000.

But after I retired from MIT, I spent time in the Brookline schools. First, sort of working with the computer teachers in the classrooms, then as a substitute teacher, because they were desperate for anybody who could teach either math or computer science; there were very few people around. So I did that, and I worked with the Association for Women in Computing, first as treasurer, but then mainly as investigating women for this award, for the Ada Lovelace, which we did every few years. And, oh, traveling, and then the usual things that people do. [laughs.]

Abbate:

Let me go back a bit. When did you first get interested in math?

Campbell:

I wasn’t that interested in it at first, because I had a great aunt I greatly admired, and she had taught early childhood education at Purdue. She was my father’s mother’s sister—this was this family of strong women—and I really admired this woman, and I thought, “This is what I would like to do.” So I had decided to do that, follow in her footsteps. The first thing I did was to take the Sunday school class of four- to six-year-olds at the Unitarian Church in Weston. [laughs.] And that was a handful indeed! These were children of wealthy parents, and they were children who were used to having their own way—I mean, one of the arguments I heard two kids having was “whose grandfather had the most money”! [laughter.]

Abbate:

This was when you were in high school?

Campbell:

This was in high school, yes; before I went to college, thinking what I would do. And in fact, it was such a chore, I got my mother to come and help me, because I had to keep the kids from—well for one thing, climbing out on the Sunday school roof! [laughs]—and things like that. So that sort of dampened some of it.

And then I got to B.U., and I found I was good in the math. And you know, I just sort of drifted into it, and gave up the other; and I graduated, as I said, with the idea of teaching. I had taken education courses, some of which I liked and some of which I didn’t like. I liked the psychology of learning, how people learn, and, you know, kinesthetic or visual or audio. But I had this miserable experience in the Waltham schools, where I taught under a teacher who was not really very good—he was teaching the old-fashioned ways; they were memorizing all of these things in freshman algebra that one would never use in real life—and I had wanted to teach the kids more problem solving. I took twelve children after school—I really had a pretty good time doing this—and in particular there was one child, a girl, and she told me that she couldn’t—she was failing in math because she had never done it for herself—her brother had always done it for her, but he had to join the navy, and so she was on her own! [laughter.] So I worked with her, and I got her so she was doing—she’ll never be a mathematician, but she was doing respectable work. But I couldn’t get the teacher to agree with me, that he should give her a B.

But worse than that was, I was working with a woman who was an excellent teacher, but after two or three days she had to leave because her mother was ailing; and they sent in a substitute teacher who said to me, “I teach business math; what can I do with trigonometry and solid geometry?” And she left; she said, “This is all yours.” And I did it, and it was a challenge, and I enjoyed it, because it was a class where I didn’t have any discipline problems: because it was all boys and one girl, and they were all headed either to MIT or Tufts engineering school, and they knew that I was the only thing they had between them and graduation—and getting a good mark in this class so that they could get in [to the college of their choice]. The only [way] they challenged me was to come in with problems that were difficult, to see if I could solve them; but I solved that problem by saying to them, “I’ll take it home and do it,” because I really liked the kids and they liked me. But I thought, you know, you’ll never find another class like that. So I went looking around for other kinds of employment.

Arriving at MIT's Rad Lab

And this idea of working at a research laboratory at MIT—even though I hadn’t the slightest idea of what it really was doing, because it was so highly classified—but it sounded exciting, and you know, more out of the real world. It wasn’t, really [laughs]—but that’s the way it seemed to me, because it was an unusual place. These were the youngest and the brightest Ph.D.s that you could find in science, and they all had been collected at this place to work on research. When I got the job, I worked for a mathematician who was under 30, and I think there were only two men in the whole room that were over 30: one of them a grandfatherly man who helped me, and another one a very quiet guy that never spoke to me all the time he was there, unless I left him a telephone message.

Abbate:

How did you get that job?

Campbell:

The way I got the job was, I talked to this professor at B.U., and he wrote a letter to his friend Dr. Loomis, who was head of personnel. And I got an appointment, not with Dr. Loomis, but with his secretary or an assistant. I don’t even remember her name; in this memoir that I’m writing, I call her Mrs. Dragon Lady, because that’s exactly what she was! [laughs.] And I made this appointment, and I hadn’t the slightest idea what I was going to do. I didn’t even come in armed with a resume. And I had to go to MIT, and the first thing that happened to me was, I got there—and that is a maze of buildings, and this whole laboratory, Radiation Laboratory, was spread out on sort of the back side of MIT. Somebody put it, you know, as the far side of the railroad tracks! [laughs.] And I was late getting there, and they had to search me, but then when I got there it really didn’t make any difference, because she wasn’t there. So I sat and I talked with this guard for three hours, chatting about things in this old pre-war building, and it was being used because it had a hangar in it—for airplanes, I guess, originally at one time, but now what they were doing was using this for very tall pieces of equipment, such as the radar and so forth that they were trying to develop.

So I sat there, and then this woman finally came in, and I was ushered in. And she looked at me, and she said, “Can you take shorthand?” and I said “No.” She said, “Can you type?” and I said “No.” And then she said, “Well, my dear, what can you do?” And that’s when I pulled myself together, because I thought, “My god, you’ve got to seem more intelligent than this,” and I said, “You have a letter from this professor Mote about me, and I’m the woman he wrote about who has a degree in mathematics.” So she went to the file and she pulled the letter out, and she went into the next room—and she had a voice you could have heard for miles—and she’s talking to Dr. Loomis, and she says, “I have this woman out there with all As in math. What do I do with her?” And his cryptic answer was, “Hire her.” [laughs.]

So I went in to see him, and I knew at this point I was going to get hired, so I didn’t feel too worried about talking to him, but I thought—you know, I was tired, I was hungry, because I hadn’t had lunch and everything, so I’m not sure how clearly I was thinking. He didn’t tell me too much. He didn’t tell me anything about the job, just where I would be located. Whether he mentioned the division I would be working with or not, I don’t know—because, it being classified, he couldn’t give me the name of it; but at least he may have said it was Division 8, or something like this. Then I thought, “Well, you know, I’ve got to say something,” so then I said—because he didn’t mention salary—I asked him what the salary would be. He said, “A hundred and fifty dollars,” and that was all. So I said, “For how long?” And then, you know, in the same tone: “My dear child, we don’t pay anybody that much a week or that little a year; it’s for a month.” Well, since teaching salaries were something like $1000 a year, and the insurance job that I had applied for was something like $25 a week, I thought this was great—and decided to take it, and sort of beat a hasty retreat! [laughs.] And I was thinking that I was going have some kind of a job running around a laboratory in a white coat doing research—which was hardly what it turned out to be.

So then I came to work the next day—and there again, I’m finding my way around MIT, and then discovered to my horror there were no room numbers on the building they had assigned me to, because they hadn’t gotten them on yet. [laughs.] But, with a little bit of luck and answering questions, I found the right place. And it was this Division 8, headed by Ivan Getting, very well-known. But I think he was like, 32, at most, and I had this Dr. Phillips, who was under 30, and here I was in this room—and I always refer to it as “twenty-one men and me”—it’s a great, big, barn of a room. The draftsmen were in there with their tables. Everybody was. The only private office was reserved for this Doctor Valley, that I never . . .

Abbate:

That was George Valley?

Campbell:

Yes, George Valley. Do you know about him?

Abbate:

He did the SAGE [air defense] project.

Campbell:

Yes, that’s right. Well, a lot of them would leave there and go someplace else. He was there for quite a while. He was referred to by one of the secretaries as “Happy Valley” because he never says anything to anybody! [laughs.] I really had no contact with him. I was always sort of curious about what he was doing, because I didn’t.

And then there was, as I said, this older man. And the first problem I ran into was, a lot of engineers had problems they wanted me to work on, and their terminology was different from my terminology. So I would go to him and say, “What do they mean by such-and-such a thing?” And he says, “Oh, that’s just a regular series.” They would call it a “time something-or-other.” So he would sort of interface for me with these other men.

Abbate:

That was Dr. Loomis?

Campbell:

No, Dr. Loomis was still back in personnel; I never saw him again. No, this was—As I said, it was run by a Dr. Getting, and he was head of the division; and then I was in the so-called Theory Group, which was run by a Dr. [Ralph] Phillips. And he was a very nice man, a very quiet and shy mathematician, willing to let me do everything on my own, with as little interference as possible from him. Anybody in that whole division could bring a problem to this Theory Group; so I would get the problem, and, as I said, go to this other guy that was [helping me]. [laughs.] Because, you know: theoretical things in math I could do; I had never done numerical analysis.

And at this point, I have to explain, we didn’t have any computers. I didn’t even have an ordinary calculator. I had a slide rule, a log table, and that was it. And I did things like compute the dish for the radar using all of those kinds of things; and so it was a lot of hand calculations. Eventually, they did get me a calculator, but I didn’t have it before. But when they got me one, it was a Monroe, and it was one of these ones where every time you wanted to get to a different column, you had to turn it over by hand and start in again. And it was such a plaything that if I went out to lunch, the guys would play with it—and break it! And then I would wait a day or two for a service man. So I finally got Dr. Getting to issue an order that was: Nobody was to play with Betty’s machine when she was out to lunch, because it was hers! Keep your hands off of it! [laughs.] But that occurred later . . .

And then they were also—one of the interesting projects they were working on was something known as a “584,” which was the piece of equipment that shot down the rockets in England. A lot of people would go over there. That group was off in another building, but I would see a lot of them. That was run by a very distinguished army colonel—the kind you expect to see in a movie; you know: gray hair, polished uniform, the whole works—with these younger scientists; and I was just bowled over by them, because I was very shy. And you know, to see a 23-year-old with a degree in physics or engineering was not something I had run into before—because they were all Ph.D.s, with the exception of the draftsman. And the draftsman was sort of interesting, because of all the people there, he’s the one I still see. He and his wife come to parties that the laboratory has, and so every Christmas is sort of like “same place, same time.” The three of us sit and talk. [laughs.] But the thing about his wife is interesting, because at the time I arrived there, he was getting married; and every time I would go out for lunch, and I wasn’t in the room, they would all be clustering around his drafting board, giving him advice. But when I came in: deathly hush! [laughter.] I hated the fact that if I walked into the room, the conversation dropped. But on the other hand, I can’t blame them, because I was only 21—just 21—and really a very innocent and naive person, so I can understand why they were like that.

But the job was great for me, in that I got a lot of responsibility, because this Dr. Phillips didn’t want to do anything that I could do. So he said “You need some help,” so we hired other women. We were analyzing the films that came from the radar, sort of seeing how close the planes had—this was all a simulation—had come to shooting down an airplane, and so we were measuring all these things. And now I had two high school girls doing that. Then we had so many hand calculations, they hired a woman from—I guess she had worked in the Harvard Observatory; she had 15 years of experience, but she didn’t have the math background I did, so I got to be boss. And then they hired a nice woman, the wife of one of . . . a research assistant working somewhere else in the building. And it worked like that: I eventually acquired a really good supervisory position working there, so that I moved to supervisor at an early age, and that was probably the best thing professionally that they did for me.

Abbate:

Did you have any idea what you working on?

Campbell:

After a while you began to know what you were working on. For one thing, they have to tell you, you realize it’s radar. You listen to everybody around you, what they’re talking about; and I learned a lot from listening to these guys. I knew what this 584 was, and what it was supposed to do. What I didn’t know was, when some very prominent physicist would disappear from that lab in general, and you would wonder they’d gone. I didn’t know about the Manhattan Project, and that was where they went. People would disappear, and you realized they’d gone somewhere important, but nobody was allowed to tell you. They would tell you what they had to tell you, and what you could overhear. And you overheard enough so that you—at least I did—I really realized what was going on, and I knew enough to know that you shouldn’t tell anything about it.

I remember flying from Washington to visit my sister during the war when she was living down there with her husband. And . . . The pilot came through the plane telling everybody about this “new, secret work” that was going to make it so much easier for him to guide his plane, and so forth—but, you know, a secret he couldn’t tell anybody. And I remember sitting there thinking, “I could probably tell you more about it than you could tell me.” [laughter.] Because I knew what he was talking about. So you knew in general. And I think it’s interesting that not too much did leak out. I used to wonder what would happen when repairmen came into the laboratory for things like this calculator, when people were talking. And I must say, I learned an awful lot that I probably wasn’t supposed to know.

Abbate:

What do you mean?

Campbell:

Just because, you know, people were talking about projects that were really none of my business, but I was intelligent enough about what was going on to be able to listen, to eavesdrop, very easily. [laughs.] I shouldn’t call it eavesdropping: people wanted to tell you what they were doing; they were proud of their research . . .

And I knew that each group had a name. We were “fire control.” And we went from working on this 584, and then when the war ended, they were working on control of equipment from ships. And there was some—actually, some little computer that came into this—there was an analog computer that one person was working on: linkages—devices that would, you know, move the guns and so on. But there weren’t computers in the sense that we think of them, where you’re doing digital computing and you’re doing long calculations. All of that came later on, after I moved out of this job.

From MIT's Basic Research Group to the Joint Computing Group

Abbate:

When was that?

Campbell:

Well, the war ended! [laughs.] In 1946, MIT decided to set up a group known as Basic Research, and those in charge went around collecting any kind of equipment—and people—that they thought they could put into this Basic Research Lab. So I felt I was being scavenged—just like they took all the math tables they had, they took me! [laughs.] They took two women from another group and put us all together in—well, it’s actually one of the old buildings that I had once worked in, but it was the famous Building 20 of MIT, which came down about a year ago, and contained all these very fascinating projects. And there were the three of us over there. One was this German lady who was working for a Chinese professor, and I was sort of running interference for her, because no way did they understand each other! [laughs.]

And the other one was very nice, and she and I got to be quite friends. But we didn’t have too much of anything to do, and then we discovered that they were making plans for us without telling us. We were both very much annoyed. And we also were annoyed with the fact that they had a personnel man in this Basic Research who had come from industry—I think he had come from some kind of a factory, to tell you the truth—without the slightest idea of how to manage professional people—and he sort of thought that we were under his control. And [he would demand] “Where were we?” if we weren’t sitting right at our desks. So we decided one afternoon that we’d see if they really did miss us. We had an invitation to go to the president’s house for tea; so we came in—and the way you would dress for the president’s house, because this was 1946—in, you know, dresses, silk stockings, and shoes—high heels—and white gloves, and a hat. And nobody missed us! [laughs.] Or if they did, they weren’t about to tell us. Of course, it probably was pretty obvious what we were up to, because we did not come dressed like that normally. And then we also had decided we would take a class at MIT; we discovered that we could do this. It wasn’t auditing; we actually paid for this class, but in those days they weren’t that expensive. It was on topology. So we asked this personnel character if we could take it. And he of course he didn’t know what in hell we were talking about. [laughs.] But then we also realized that we had, both of us, known the professor who was teaching it—and he was Polish, and, as he put it, he spoke seven different languages; and we used to say, “Yes, like a native of Poland!” And so Pat—that was the other woman —Pat decided, “We might as well go and ask the bursar, ‘Do we have to pay for this class if we couldn’t understand him?’” [laughter.] I wouldn’t have had the nerve to do this, but she did; and we went over, and we left him laughing; he thought that was the funniest thing that ever happened. And we did go, and we both managed to get through the first semester, because—as he put it, he really did make a mistake: he should have taught at Wellesley, where there were more women students. At the end of the class he would look at the two of us and say, “You want to go out for coffee?” And of course the guys in the class were really upset, because then he wouldn’t stand around answering their questions—he’d rather go out for coffee! [laughs] And it was all on set theory, which I had never had, but I managed to work my way through it. In fact I even took the second semester.

But these were the kind of things that would happen. Because, you know, if some man had said he wanted to take a class, nobody would have questioned him as to what it was—nobody at all. . . . But no men either would have gone to the bursar and asked if they could get their money back. So you know, it was a two-way street! We all did the same thing.

Then not knowing what to do with us—and they didn’t think we were busy enough—the administration and faculty had a cocktail party, to which we were not invited, but at which they discussed our future. And as I said, that really annoyed us no end. But there was a young professor, a professor [Herman] Feshbach, a relatively well-known physicist—he just died recently—but he was a young guy at the time. He had people working for him doing computations in the acoustics laboratory; he had people working for him doing acoustics for nuclear science; and as there were the two of us—I don’t think he wanted the German lady working in this laboratory without enough to do!—and he thought: Why not put us all together in a group? So that’s what happened, and we became known as the Joint Computing Group. We were sort of like a pool, and it really developed more into that. The first person to run it was one of the women from the acoustics laboratory—in fact there were two from the acoustics laboratory—but eventually I was in charge of that group.

Moving into Computer Programming

And that’s when we got into the programming. We were like a programming pool. The programming was much too hard for the Ph.D. students to do on their own, because what had happened was . . .

I’m sort of getting ahead of myself. MIT had set up a group known as Machine Methods. By the time all of this happened, this group that I was working in, we would take in jobs from five different laboratories—nuclear science, acoustics, electronics . . . and we had this Committee for Machine Methods. And this was with Professor Morse—so there, again, is a very well-known physicist; he and Feshbach wrote sort of the Bible of theoretical physics, more or less a benchmark. Professor Morse was very far-seeing, and he realized that computers would have a big impact on physics—and he also must have been a pretty good negotiator, because he got IBM to give him a computer, the 704. Two of us were selected out of the group to go to Poughkeepsie to learn how to run this thing. Then a Main Computing Laboratory was set up to manage the 704. It was sort of interesting—there again, the sociological part of the thing was, we all went off to a meeting, and they . . . . Nobody, of course, was trained in computers, so they were looking to hire people with certain characteristics, like if you played chess. Well, I didn’t play chess. And then they said, “ . . .and people who knit,” and I thought, “I’ve made it: I knit!” [laughter.]

Abbate:

This is so they’d hire people who would be good programmers?

Campbell:

They were talking about “What was going to make a programmer?”, and they were talking about anything that had to do with logic. Actually, what made a good programmer was a great deal of patience. That’s why women were really good at it. You need some math, but nowhere near the math that they said you needed. Some people would say—I remember there was a television program done on the early days at MIT, and you would have thought everybody was a math genius—and they weren’t! [laughs.] Computing, and computing hardware, is a very practical engineering thing, and mathematical thing, but it’s not what I call highbrow math. Maybe highbrow engineering—I don’t think even that, because if you stop and look at it, it’s just all yes-or-no: the circuits and so on are fairly simple to understand. I studied some of the courses. I think if I had graduated from college—from high school—a few years after I did, I probably would have gone into the electrical engineering department at a place like MIT to get a degree in computer science, because that’s where they gave computer science degrees. But even so, we were much more practical than the later generations of computer science kids were, because we knew what this thing really did, and we knew pretty much how it did it! [laughs.]

So anyway, so we went with that. And before we got to the 704—I do keep getting ahead of myself—we had worked on Whirlwind, which was a computer that MIT developed. I was working with Professor Feshbach, and he had all these differential equations he wanted to solve, in wave theory—in fact, somewhere around here I have the book, because I got my name on it (and it’s sort of interesting, they do it alphabetically, so Campbell came first), because I had done all these wave functions calculations, which were really horrendous. And it was sort of a fantastic group, because along with Feshbach was Weisskopf, who I guess was the Dean of Theoretical Physics at MIT. It was a very interesting department.

So anyway, I worked through Whirlwind—and there again, a funny story: I decided the way to learn was to take a class that was taught as a regular class at MIT; and this one I could sit in on and audit; I didn’t have to pay for it. So I took off, and I thought, “Well, you know, it’s engineering, but maybe I’ll get enough out of it.” I got a lot out of it. But then I broke my leg skiing, so I had to drop out of the class. So as soon as I got back on my feet to some extent, I rejoined the next semester; and it was a very funny guy who taught it—and a very good teacher—anyway, I walked in late because of having to get across the campus with my crutches, and he said, “I want you guys to know this is a very difficult class! Look what it did to that poor woman who’s coming in!” [laughter.] But it was a great class. I learned a lot. And so we all started programming Whirlwind, and at this point . . .

Abbate:

When was that?

Campbell:

That was in the mid-’50s. —You know, it was interesting: I never knew Judy [Clapp]. I knew some of the other people who worked over there, but I never happened to run into her. I think I knew people who worked there earlier than she did.

Abbate:

So that was the first computer that you had used?

Campbell:

That was the first computer that MIT had designed, and it has a very interesting history, because it was supposed to be a flight simulator, and then they decided to design it as a general-purpose computer, and so by the time I got to it, that’s exactly what they were doing. But they were using oscilloscopes with a bouncing-ball program way ahead of anybody else.

[recording pauses]

Abbate:

So, in terms of chronology, you did the Rad Lab first, and then the Whirlwind?

Campbell:

The Rad Lab; then I went to this Basic Research group, which then eventually set up this Joint Computing Group, which I eventually ended up managing. That was in the early ‘50s, probably around 1950. And then we got interested in using the Whirlwind computer at MIT . . . . But the problem we had was that the Whirlwind was in another building, and I wasn’t about to have everybody go over there—to come in to work, and then go walk all the way over then to pick up their work from the night before (the only time they could get things run was at night). And then the same personnel manager that had given the two of us a difficult time about taking the class wanted to know what all these women were doing. And then I discovered he had set up a spy—I can’t remember Ernie’s [last] name, but Ernie was the spy, and everybody had spotted him. So I said, “Look, don’t sneak by him, whatever you do. Walk up to Ernie and give him a big good morning. Just make yourself known, because that way you are showing them that you’re not doing anything wrong.” Then I said, “Plus which, it’ll irritate the hell out him!”—which I knew. [laughs.] I tell you, I spent my time defending a lot of the women who worked for me, because we had got to work in a field where you can’t keep exact hours. If you get interested in something you stay later—and sometimes I would go over there at night to watch this computer run, because it was fascinating. And I just didn’t want . . . you know, a “don’t treat us as the hired help” kind of attitude towards the group.

You know, after a while I got to know this guy—his name was Ralph Sayers; he really was actually a fairly nice guy—and he said, “Betty, what are you running, a country club?” Well, because we would have coffee mid-morning. And these kinds of things made it interesting—this is a diversion, but—Along with everything that was going on, there was this psychiatrist who came to work at MIT, a Jerry Lettvin, and he had been in Cook’s County in Chicago, which is a very rough hospital. And when he discovered this group, he thought, “What better place to have coffee in the morning, with a whole room full of gullible women!” [laughs.] And he would tell these women fantastic stories about Cook’s County, fifty percent of which were true. And he had this most beautiful wife, who then set herself up as an exercise teacher, and wrote a book, The Beautiful Machine. [laughs.] And he was a character at MIT. I mean, this is a diversion, but he was really an interesting person. Later on he had a debate with Timothy Leary about LSD, and he just won hands down. He was a big man, with a big black beard, and a commanding presence, but a heart of gold. He loved his students, and he just loved people in general. So he would come in; and one thing he did for me—in this group—One woman had left to have a baby, and the baby died, and she came back, and she just wanted to talk about the baby, and the other women were upset. Jerry walked in, saw the situation, took over, soothed every—calmed everybody down; and I thought, I couldn’t have been more grateful, because I wasn’t really that adept at handling it. But this is what made life interesting, for all these women: all the people that they met. Because the work wasn’t really, you know, that fascinating.

But anyway, we worked on Whirlwind, and then the 704 came along, so we transferred all our stuff over there. But the thing that I did with Professor Feshbach with the wave analysis was done on Whirlwind, and published. The only way I could get any results out was to use a [memory] dump; I didn’t have enough storage in Whirlwind to get a print program. So I dumped everything out, and some poor secretary had to take that dump and retype all those tables, and the book was about this thick. [holds fingers apart.]

But I used to keep track of programs that I ran over there, and then see what they would do on other machines later on. We had other things that we put together, some Lommel functions that we did, and I thought, “Just run them now, and then run them a few years later and see . . .” Finally, you know, I gave up, because what had taken eight hours was—I think I got it down to half a minute, and quit! [laughs.] Now it would probably take a half a second or something.

Abbate:

So when you . . .

Campbell:

To go on with the chronology: So then, one of the biggest laboratories in this group was the Lab for Nuclear Science, and they had more computer work than they could get done over at the main computing center, on the 704—which I think had become at that point maybe a 709. And I would go over to the center to wheedle time out of the people, be nice to the operators so I got them to run my job on a Saturday—all those kinds of things. Then we started negotiating with other similar DOE [laboratories]—they have a similar DOE laboratory, like at NYU—to run the jobs down there: buy time. And then the laboratory director said, “If we’re going to buy all this time, we might as well ask the government for money for our own computer.” So I worked with a group of users—and really this was funny, because they really didn’t know what they were doing, any more than I did—but we had this committee to select the computer: a graduate student, and me, and some of the physicists; and everybody thought they knew what they were talking about, including me! [laughs.] But anyway, since we were working with IBM, we selected the 7044, and set it up. And at that point I quit the big group, and said, “Now I want to work just for the laboratory.”

Moving to the Nuclear Science Lab at MIT

Abbate:

The Nuclear Science one?

Campbell:

The one with the computer, the Nuclear Science one. And that’s what I eventually ended up doing, was running that computer installation.

But first I did a lot of very interesting programming on it. I learned how to generate a system and get it up. I worked very closely with IBM, and we had a project with an accelerator, at Harvard. The experimenters wanted to send their data down while the accelerator was running, and get it analyzed. Well, this had a lot problems connected with it. First and foremost, there was no intercity rate for sending data over a phone line. So the professor in charge of it had a friend at Bell Labs who twisted a few arms, and they established a rate. And then we decided we would work on a program to dump everything that was running in the computer out, put their job in, and run it. And the only place that had ever done anything like that on the 7044 was for experiments on dogs at the Mayo Clinic—so I got in touch with the people out there, and we did this direct data program, one of the most interesting things I did. If you look back on it now, it probably wasn’t that complicated programming . . . But it was in a sense: we didn’t really have the right equipment—we didn’t have any disks! So we dumped the running programs out on tapes, and then the tape [with the accelerator data] was supposed to come down from Harvard. Well actually, we never got the data coming over the line, or at least I didn’t while I was working on it; the tape would come down with a kid on a bicycle. But they were still close enough, you know. In other words, they’d take the tape off the computer down there—the experiment in the accelerator—and then rush it down [to MIT], and then we would mount it, and they would dump everything out, and it was . . .

I learned how on the various operations—I learned this from the customer engineers, ‘cause they knew more than the system engineers!—where an interrupt would occur, because there was a data interrupt on the computer that we could use. Dump the other stuff out; read half our job in; set a whole lot of flags on the computer; analyze the data; dump that one out; and read the other one back in. I had a graduate student working with me, and eventually we got the whole thing running; and then he took over, and I think he got it too sophisticated . . . and I don’t know how much he ever got done, actually going down the line, because that was when I dropped it. The job was just getting so big that I hired two systems programmers. So the first systems programmer that I hired, I said to him, “I wrote this program but it is a first attempt, rough and dirty, but it works. Take it and make it much more sophisticated—clean it up.” Which was a great thing to give somebody who was new; and he did that. And a young Canadian came in, and he worked on it—so I sort of dropped the whole thing and concentrated much more on management.

There again, you know, we’d had this computer for two years, and we wanted another one—and one of the things that I did was to write, at that point, RFPs for new computers. I wrote them incessantly, and didn’t get very many new computers, but we got a 360/65. But we got that at the time when—the 360/65 was nowhere as sophisticated as now. It didn’t do any spooling; so you stopped the computer while you printed out the results, which wasn’t a very good idea. On the 7044, we had written results on tape, and then printed it out on a 1401. So this time I guess I had three systems programmers working on it, and we got an output writer going, or they did . . . I had good luck in using students who were very bright. And you know, people would say, “How do you deal with the students, how do you trust them?” And I said, “Look, they’re brighter than I am. They know what they’re doing. I don’t have the time to do this kind of work.” And I said, “The only problem is to get them to tell me what they’re doing—because they would like to be very secretive.” But they got an output writer going, these programmers; and there was one student who was very bright and did a lot, and then there was this other one—still is here, I still see him in Brookline every once in a while—who did this direct data stuff. And he was a huge help to me, because if I had a new manual—he had a photographic mind, and I would say, “Craig, read this, and tell me what you think of it.” He’d go home and read it in one night, and tell you on page so-and-so, paragraph such-and-such, what was what! And I thought, this is just an incredible . . . . And he went on to be a very good engineer on computers.

And so got a 360/65 in. When that ran out of time, we got a PDP set up and put it in. And after we got that was when I decided to retire. I retired early . . . .

But now I am getting out of chronology again! After we got the 360/65 in, along came all this networking with the ARPANET, which—of course, a lot of that research was done at MIT. And I had gotten into the computer groups in DOE; there was something called AESOP—Association For Energy Systems Operations and Programming—and I used to go to their meetings, and I had worked very well with the DOE office in Chicago getting surplus equipment, and so . . . . Let me see where I am . . . .

Abbate:

Something about . . .

Campbell:

One of the professors suggested to me, “Why don’t you write a proposal for some money for a contract of your own with DOE, to investigate using the network to off-load programs—problems and programs at MIT that we simply don’t have the time to run; off-load them to another computer.”—Namely, at this point, the CDC at Berkeley. The reason that networking could do this for us was that this was the first time, with the ARPANET, that they had connected online computers, so that you could take and send your program to a—and we worked with FORTRAN with these programs, so it might have been sometimes we had to recompile at another place—but we could still send jobs back and forth.

And so we worked on that, and I got several of the young physicists to try their hand at doing that, and we formed sort of a consortium. I think that’s the most interesting thing I probably did. I was the only woman on it, and we communicated with each other with something called Planet, which allowed one to communicate with a group over the net.

[TAPE 1, SIDE 2]

Campbell:

. . . but we could put in—you know, we were writing reports together: we would put in our part of the report, and then everybody would read it; and then you could take a vote on what we should do next, say “yes” or “no.” It was really quite powerful—it would be powerful up to a point, and then you went to the telephone. Well, the thing that I ended up being was sort of the mother of the group, because these guys were pretty critical of each other’s work, and I would get this call, “Don’t you think so-and-so is picking on me?” [laughter.] And then, I had never learned to type, and one of the guys would write messages such as “Why don’t we get Betty a typing lesson!” [laughs.]

But we had a good time, and I . . . We had meetings, and I would go to California and attend meetings—of the project run by Jerry Estrin at the University of Southern California—well, I don’t know which one; he was in L.A. Anyway, he was in California, at a University. He was the husband of Thelma Estrin , if you’ve ever heard of her. So I worked with Jerry and his group on that. And I was lucky in finding a graduate student—very brilliant kid—and hiring him to work on it, because he was into all phases of what the ARPANET would do, and what word processing would do that they had on the Multics system at MIT; he was a Multics expert. He taught my secretary how to use a very complicated word processing [system], which had both a formatting program and an editing program; it just wasn’t that simple. Not only did he teach her, he taught a part-time person that I hired to do it.

Abbate:

Who was that?

Campbell:

His name was—I’m trying to think of his name . . . It was too bad, because he never really finished his Ph.D. at MIT: he went from group to group . . . Oh, it will come to me . . . The last I knew, he had gone out to Texas, I think, to one of the universities down there, but I’m not sure. But you know, he was sort of—I don’t think he interacted well with the people above him; but he really interacted well with the people below him. And he worked on this group; and he worked with the guys at Berkeley that were working on it. So we got a fair amount done. We never really used it an awful lot for off-loading, but it was there, and the idea would work, and certainly it gave me a good feeling for what networking could do.

Abbate:

Were there any women graduate students or programmers that you worked with?

Reflections on the People at MIT

Campbell:

Oh, well . . . who would you have known? There was a Bob Fink at Berkeley . . .

There were a whole group of people in DOE that I knew and worked with—some programmers and some heads of the laboratories, of the computer part of the laboratory, rather . . . There was a Jim Baker. Then there was another man after Jim who ran this Berkeley group.

The people that I knew—that were well-known—sometimes knew quite well—like Corbatò at MIT, and Licklider . . . I didn’t know Licklider that well, but I knew Mrs. Licklider very well—we were in a drama group together! [laughs.] Bob Fano I knew quite well. All the people who worked on project MAC. And then people that would come in: Joel Moses, who was one of the ones who first did algebraic work on the network. And then Jean Sammet, who certainly is a very well-known IBMer; and she did the Format program. She was even ahead of Joe Moses in doing algebraic work on the net. And I knew Jean through . . . well, we worked together on things like a conference for ACM, and so on. Jean also lived in the same condo building that I did in Brookline . . . I lost track of her; the last I did with her, we gave her one of these prizes, these Ada Lovelace prizes. . . She was never a real feminist by any means, and . . . but she came up, and she gave a very good talk. Then I lost track of her for a while, and then when I was doing this journal with Michael Williams, editor of Annals of Computing, I contacted Jean to see if she wanted to contribute an article for women in computing, but she didn’t. [laughs.] And I haven’t seen her since then. I sometimes keep track of her through Pat Summers. who knows her in Washington, but I think the last time I saw her was at that New York meeting, which was quite a few years ago. Then there was Alan Perliss. That was a very impressive guy, Alan Perliss. And then the one I liked, the one that’s still around, you know, doing things—and was really written up in the Sunday paper—is Michael Dertouzos.

Abbate:

He’s still very active now.

Campbell:

Very, very active. He probably wouldn’t remember me, but I had some program I was doing with the personnel office, where you had to go around and interview people at MIT. So I went and interviewed Michael Dertouzos. [laughs.] But he is a fascinating person; I’m just fascinated by the fact that he would organize a series of computer lectures, by distinguished lecturers in computer science, and we would all go just to hear him introduce the people! [laughs.] I went to hear Bill Gates speak when he spoke at MIT, and I’ll have to say that Dertouzos did a better job introducing him than Bill Gates did [speaking]. And that was sort of interesting, because those kids were out to get Bill Gates. You know, you really have to see MIT students when they’re out to get somebody! And don’t get in their way! [laughs.] You know the whole thing is, they’re so well organized! I decided I’d go over, and I thought, “Wait, that is really going to be rough to get in!” But there were refreshments first, so I thought, “I’ll skip the refreshments and walk right in.” Which I did, and managed to get a seat; but those kids were all around me, because they simply picked up the refreshments on the way in, even though you’re not supposed to take them into Kresge Auditorium. They were all sitting munching around me! [laughs.]

I find the whole thing interesting because the question that first they hit him with was, “With all this money, what are you doing with it?” You know, “Where are your charities, where are those?” Of course, now he’s developed this big charity organization, but he didn’t have it at that particular time; and I don’t know whether he developed it because of what these kids had to say, or whether it rubbed off on him or not; I have no idea. I just think they thought he was talking down to them, and they had expected some exciting new developments, and they just weren’t pleased with the lecture.

This is their mode of operation: They can ask questions like nothing at all. I was there when they had a protest at MIT—when Nixon was president, and he sent some guy up . . . There was Computer Professionals Against the ABM; and this guy came up, and when the kids got through with him he caved in! I remember one of them said to him, “And what do you think, Professor, Nixon is thinking?” And he said, “I haven’t the slightest idea!” and he turned around and went back to Washington. [laughter.]

They just—and that, again, was what made it interesting: Here were these really bright students, and bright professors. Another professor that I knew quite well—not really so much through the computers—I worked under a Computer Committee, and the head of that committee would change every year, which wasn’t the easiest thing on me; but the one I really liked was Henry Kendall, who was head of the Union of Concerned Scientists. And this was probably the most ethical scientist I will ever meet. He was a highly ethical person. And there was the nuclear science laboratory, theoretical; and then there was the nuclear engineering department, that had this Professor [Norman C.] Rasmussen, who was all for building atomic energy plants, etc. And they would have debates: Rasmussen would come with a clique of his students, and he [Kendall] wouldn’t do that; he said, “I would not ask my students to come and defend me.” He was going to defend himself. If they wanted to come and speak, that was all right with him, but he wasn’t going to say that they had to. He was interested in pollution, and things like that—really one of the professors at MIT that gave the students a way of life. I can’t put it any other way.

So I met a lot of very interesting people: some in the computer field, some of whom were physicists, and the as I said, these—

Oh, there was Jules Schwartz, too, who was working on time sharing with Corbatò, and so forth. All the time-sharing guys came in, and—

Abbate:

Were you actually working on Project MAC?

Campbell:

No, I was one of their guinea pigs! [laughs.] I knew Professor Fano very well because he had been in the Research Lab of Electronics that, and he said . . . I got myself a terminal, and the idea was, I was to intrigue the physicists into using Project MAC.

Abbate:

Really!

Campbell:

Which wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, because they would say: “That operator messed up my cards when I took them over to MAC.” Or, “It’s too slow.” They expected it to be—you know, instant success. But I got quite a few of them interested in it. This was before we started doing the networking with DOE. It’s probably what led into the networking. But I would go to Project MAC seminars, I knew people who worked over there—as I said, it was Licklider, Corbatò, Fano . . . If I could think of some more names, I would . . .

Abbate:

That’s OK.

Campbell:

That was probably one of the most fascinating projects that I ever got involved in, even though it was only as a user. But then, the DOE thing, the networking, that was as a user. But I did get into that enough to know how they built the interface machines that linked up the network, the . . .

Abbate:

The IMPS.

Campbell:

Yes, the IMP.

And I worked with—oh, there was Goldstein at NYU . . . And I knew some of the lesser lights, if you know what I mean; the guys who were doing the work . . . their names now escape me at this point, but they were really interesting people.

And there were a very few women, but there were others. There was a Margaret who worked at Argonne, and a lot of the programming that she did was like what I also did at one point, too. When you started in using these computers to solve physics problems, you had to work out numerical methods for solving differential equations, and other mathematical functions. And there was a very good professor at MIT that taught numerical analysis, so I took his class, and then worked on things like that. And Argonne was the one that had done—did so much numerical analysis.

Abbate:

I don’t know what they were working on with computers at Argonne.

Campbell:

Well, there was one group that worked simply on things like numerical analysis—even the very beginning kinds of things, like how are you going to get a sine or a cosine accurately? And in fact, that was one of the things that my whole group probably did to a great extent, because when we first started doing all the physics problems—the physicists would think that if they gave us an equation, it would work! [laughs] —but you were always approximating something. And I can remember Phyllis Fox: does that name ring a bell for you? She was a mathematician at NYU, and she had started this stuff for Professor Feshbach, and she had developed a series for getting the starting values of these wave functions. I don’t know why, [but] I decided that even though the last thing that she had in the series was a small number, I wasn’t sure that the next one wouldn’t be bigger: and it was. So I remember reworking that series to do it. And then we were using things where you would step it up: so you would say, “All right, we know what it is at X, we’ll do it at X + delta X, and then X + delta X again.” Well, if you keep adding the delta X on often enough, you didn’t have—because of the accuracy of the computers—you didn’t have the real X. So you had to do an awful lot of fooling around with different intervals, different ways of getting there, so that what you got was the correct wave function—and not one that veered from the correct one: it would start out correctly, but then it might go below it or above it. You had to do an awful lot of playing around with accuracy and round-off and that kind of stuff. And that was the sort of stuff that they did. Argonne did some fascinating work on developing series for various kinds of mathematical functions that you needed.

And the only person I know that was there—her name was Margaret; and the interesting thing about this was, she also belonged to the AESOP group that I belonged to, and some of the men [thought], “If it’s a woman, it’s Margaret.” You know, don’t bother that this one’s named Betty! [laughs.] It really was funny. You’d go to those meetings—and this was an example of the kind of things that happened to you—they had a reception, and I went in a long skirt, and this woman walked up to me and she said, “What does your husband do?” And I said, “Well, I work; it’s my own work.” “Oh!” she said, “you’re one of those!” And walked off. But there was a very nice man who ran this thing, a Fred Ben, and—this is what I mean about people with daughters: Fred must have had daughters, because he was always pushing me to join this, or join that; to do things. And that particular night, I remember, his wife was there, and she couldn’t have been sweeter; and I thought, “Well, it’s nice to know that somebody around here has got a wife that doesn’t think I’m ‘one of those’!”

And then there would be things like [message boards labeled] “Members’ messages” and “Women’s messages.” So of course these guys would say, “Okay, Betty, what are you going to be: a woman or a member?” [laughs.]

But I enjoyed this; I didn’t let that bother me too much. I think I got used to the fact that most of the men were really supporting me. Plus which, you didn’t have a sense that you couldn’t do anything. For instance, I would hire women operators. Oh—well! When I would hire male operators—students—I would object to the fact that they walked around in shorts, no shirts, and no shoes. They would say, “Oh, Betty, you’re being prudish.” Well, I won the one on the shoes, because somebody dropped something on his foot and broke it! [laughs.] The shirts I think I more or less won, because it was cold. But then I hired this operator, and she was . . . I liked doing things—and the personnel office got me involved in this—with people that they were trying to help in the community. And this was a Polish woman. She actually was really very bright, she had some kind of Ph.D., but her English was so terrible, we never really figured it out. But she was this very sexy-looking blonde—it wouldn’t have made any difference how she dressed. Well, they complained: her sweaters were too tight, her jeans were too tight. And I thought, ‘Well, since when do they get dressed up?’

Abbate:

The operators complained?

Campbell:

Well, some of the younger physicists—there was one physicist, he came in and he said, “There’s a woman down there bothering the operator.” I think he said it to my secretary (I was there at the time), and she just looked at him and said, “She is the operator.”

Well, we had this really tall, good-looking Caribbean man who had come in, and he was having a terrible time, because he wasn’t use to the customs of the country at all. Something would go wrong and the guys would say, “Oh my God!” Well, that was something you don’t swear at in Barbados, where he came from. So he didn’t understand their “Oh my God.” He didn’t understand—we were trying to explain the difference between business days and vacation days one time to him. . . But anyway, he and this woman got along fine. They used to get along all the time, but they were running that machine beautifully. And neither one had any interest in the other. But then—she did get pregnant. Well, if you think those guys—[they asked me], “So, who’s the father?” If I had known who the father was, I wouldn’t have told them anyway, because it was none of their business. I had guessed who the father was, because—she had twins, and she lost one, and she didn’t realize that she had another one, and then when the baby was born it was a little girl with all this black hair: well, she looked just like one of the graduate students! But I wasn’t about to—I thought, let them figure it out for themselves.

And there was another operator that they said wore peekaboo blouses on Saturday. Well, I wasn’t about to come in and see her Saturday blouses. And I’d gotten stuck with her because she had initiated a suit against one of the guards where she had previously worked, out at Lincoln Laboratory; and I discovered afterwards that in this particular case she was the one at fault, not the guard. So I finally said to personnel, “Take her back! I really don’t want her and her peekaboo blouses.” Not because of the peekaboo blouses but because of the stir it was causing, and because I wasn’t sure that she always turned up for work. It was very difficult, when you were running a computing center—they could come in and get the computer going and leave on you, without you really knowing what was going on, on a weekend, or at night.

Facing the Challenges of Running the Computer Center

Abbate:

What were the biggest challenges for you in running the computer center? It sounds like personnel was one. What were some of the others?

Campbell:

I think the biggest challenge was to see if I could actually get that computer up and running. The second biggest challenge was [laughs] the Ph.D.s who thought they could do it better! You know, at first they thought they had to have a Ph.D. to run this computing center, when we first acquired the 7044; so they assigned two young Ph.D.s—who didn’t want to have anything to do with it—to help the IBMer. And I thought, “Well, that won’t ever do.” I was going to a meeting in Philadelphia, and I managed to discover another meeting following that meeting—I managed to keep myself away for two to three weeks. When I got back, the guy from IBM said, “Where have you been? Get me out of this!” And I thought, “I’ve won!” Because the kids said, “I don’t want to do this”; and he said, “I can’t explain anything to them,” and so . . .

And this guy was easy to work with. We worked with him, and then they got a replacement for him, and it was a woman, one of the first few women they [IBM] ever sent in. Well, I had no objection to a woman, but the two of us—she and I—were objecting to the fact that they weren’t getting anybody that had the engineering experience that he had. Because this was when we were putting this direct data in, and the phone line, and neither one of us understood how phone lines worked at that time. So I said to him, “No, you’ve got to stay a while; you’ve got to teach us what you’re doing.” And the three of us would go to New York together, to run jobs and so on; and I did learn a lot from him.

And then I would take her to SHARE meetings with me [laughs]—just because I knew it aggravated everybody else! You know, sometimes you do things, if you’re a woman, just because it’s amusing to see how the men are going to react. And also because you feel if you don’t, you’re never going to get anywhere. I was not a real pusher in this; I think I was the kind that sort of would negotiate. I mean, I negotiated with these physicists all the time; you really couldn’t “win” in that sense of saying “You do this” or “You do that.” I remember saying to one of them one time, “I don’t care what you do, just make up your mind.” Because it was for a piece of equipment, and at this point we had waited too long to get it.

I think I really did better than some of the rest, and I do think that the fact that you could treat it with a sense of humor [helped] . . . And the women would all band together. I remember early in the game [laughs], we would have pet names for the people who were bothering us. One of the professors was known as Old Pinch-Bottom, and the warning was, “Don’t go to a party and turn your back on him!” [laughs.] And then I had to interview him for something, which was right after the war ended and we were setting up these new laboratories. I think there was a question as to whether, before they hired me, I should have talked to him. And one woman said to me, “Don’t be alarmed if he never looks at anything but your ankles.” And this was true, and I thought, I would never have gotten through that interview if he had never looked at me. I would have wondered, was there something the matter with my shoes, or what? [laughs.] And then there was one of them that thought he was a hot-shot, and we called him Tiger Smith. And then there was one of the ones who used to check up on us all the time, when I had the group. I was using the keypunch one day—this was when we were using the 704—and he came in and he said, “Show me how it works,” and he slid into the chair beside me. Without even thinking, I went like this [waving her arm]—knocked him sprawling on the floor! [laughter.] And I had a very young [employee]—very young, she had just gotten out of Smith [College]; she reminded me of myself at the time when I got out of college—and she started to giggle, and she couldn’t stop. He never came back. [laughter.] I think if she hadn’t started to giggle, it wouldn’t have been quite so bad. [After that] he would be polite enough at parties and so forth, but he didn’t risk coming into the room again. And you know, it was extremely instinctive on my part, to do that. I think it was just that I was so tired of his coming in and asking questions and trying to check up on us, to see what we were doing.

Reflection on Experience as a Woman in Computing

But—to go way, way back, and this is one story I tell everybody: When I first went to this Radiation Laboratory, and took that job, it wasn’t too easy; the office manager asked me out to lunch the first day, but then after that I was pretty much on my own. The office women weren’t too terribly friendly. Then they said they wanted to do some work out at the airport, where they had an installation, and that they had another woman who would be going out, and I would go out there with her. She and I got along fine, and finally we started doing things like shopping together and so forth; and the head secretary said to me, “I don’t think you should do things with her.” And I thought, “I wonder what she’s talking about?” It wasn’t for years later that I realized what she was talking about. This woman was very thin, very independent, and she wore men’s pants—so they had assumed she was a lesbian. I didn’t even know what the word meant at that time. But I instinctively knew that she wasn’t: first, she was married, and second, she was a really big flirt. And we worked for this gorgeous-looking, Greek god kind of blond guy, and she would go in to his office and get him to come out and talk to us at the slightest excuse. She would pursue him like mad, because she just thought it was fun. [laughs.] But then the two of us got to talking one day—the two of us got to exchanging salaries: I was making $150 and she was making $85. So she went to Dr. Loomis and says, “How come you hired her at less money than you hired me?” And he said to her, “Because she came in wearing a dress, and you came in wearing pants.” And they would never get away with anything like that in this day and age. But that those pants could have been such an affront to him, and an affront to those other women, was something that was hard for me to comprehend. Because it was a very cold summer! [laughs.] I was wearing a wool suit, so she was wearing wool pants. But I was just happy to have somebody who was friendly, and liked to go shopping, and do the kinds of things that women do do together. . . . And I don’t know whether she got any more money after that; I think she quit.

Abbate:

That’s interesting.

Campbell:

But there was a lot of that kind of thing that went on around me. Somehow I was aware of a lot of it, but not of all of it.

Abbate:

Did you ever personally experience overt discrimination?

Campbell:

I had a few issues where . . . well, I can remember somebody trying to get me to do something—it really wasn’t sexual harassment, but I said to him: “You either quit it or doggone it, I’m going to say this is harassment.” We were arguing over a decision involving a computer and so forth. But I think I had an advantage in the fact that I had a job that they couldn’t fill if I left. It was sort of an advantage—they needed me more than I needed them.

But there were people at a lower level I would have trouble with; there was one man who was in charge of property, and I can give you no description of him other than that he was a dirty old man. He didn’t pick on me, but he would pick on women who worked for me. I finally stopped it: one day he said something to me about one of the men that worked for me, and I answered him, using his same vulgar expressions, in front of a whole bunch of guys. And he quit. He hated me, because he used to think that he got all the surplus equipment in the laboratory by talking to one of the girls that worked in the property office for DOE; but he got this surplus equipment—the computer stuff—because I talked to the men there! [laughs.] I wasn’t flirting with them or anything. I was saying—because they had to write reports, and they didn’t understand what the computers were doing—and I told them, “I’ll tell you what to say if you get me that machine.” And then there was, of course, this other man, this Fred Ben who had been so nice to me, and his wife; they were just people who were nice to me in general. So I could get things done that he [the property man] couldn’t get done, because he couldn’t 1) get to the top level, and 2) if he had, he wouldn’t have gotten anywhere, because he just was so uncouth. He really was uncouth, I can’t put it any other way. And I used to wonder why some of the women—he would always go after the younger women, you know, he’d have his hands all over them, and I thought, “Why in the world do they put up with him?” If someone had turned around and hit him, I wouldn’t have been surprised.

But no, I think I was just one level up enough [to avoid harassment]. And I also was aware of who were the problems, and I could avoid them; as I said, the women got together. There was one man who used to come in and bother me, and I would get up and open the door. You’d do anything to quietly show them 1) that you were on to them and 2) that they had no control over you.

And then there were things that happened that were just amusing without really being harassment. I hired a woman, and I called up to get a reference on her, and the professor says to me, “Oh, I remember her; she was the pretty one.” He didn’t mean anything by it. And then he said, “Oh, and she got very good grades for a woman.” Those kinds of things were very prevalent. But there again, after I hired her, I got a lot of compliments on her work from the men that she worked with, because she was very bright. We did have a case with her where—I don’t know if you would call this sexual harassment; it’s the kind of thing you get when you’re in a bad neighborhood—which we were, at MIT. And there was this kid—he was about 18, I guess; he looked a lot older—and he had been in the Fernald school in Waltham, and they let him out to visit his mother. Well, first he attacked one of the students; but she was a really husky girl, and she was on the stairs above him; she turned around and took her books and wanged him on the head. [laughs.] The students there were pretty good about protecting themselves! And I didn’t think anything of it, except to say to the women in the group, “Just be careful when you come in here when we’re not officially open. I don’t think it’s too good to come in through the back door.” Well, this woman, the one who was so well dressed, happened to have a husband who was a graduate student. And he was working in our office, so she came in through the building to come—I guess they were going to meet in our office, on a Saturday. And she said she got started, and she realized somebody was following her. And she tried knocking on a few doors where she knew people were in, but it didn’t do any good—because the kids ran around in the building anyway—and the people inside didn’t want to open their doors; they didn’t want to be bothered, they thought it was just somebody annoying them. And she got almost to our office door when he seized her. And she screamed. But her husband had heard her coming—she wore high heels, and he’d heard the tap, tap of the heels—and he got up and grabbed the guy, calmed her down, and somehow he held the guy in a chair while she called the campus police. The campus police really disappointed me; they said, oh, well, they knew about this guy, and his mother . . . But then we went to one of the deans, and he said, “Oh, no; this is going to court.” And he went into court with Nancy; and really it was the best thing to do for this guy, because they took him out of that school and put him in a different place. An 18-year-old should not have been in a school with little children anyway. What they were keeping him in the Fernald school for, I don’t know; it was a badly run place.

Reflections on SHARE meetings

Abbate:

Let me go back a little. You mentioned SHARE, the IBM users’ group. So you went to meetings? What were those like?

Campbell:

I used to go to all the SHARE meetings, and at one point I was head of the management group; I did that for a while. And I would usually go and take a—somebody else with me. [laughs.] This shows you how—we ran on a rather small budget, so I had the bright idea of taking and combining what they would give for one person, and I would manage to get more than one person going. And we would have all sorts of ways of meeting the high costs of things, and so on.

And I got to know a lot of the people who were prominent in SHARE. There was a Shirley Frock—you probably never ran into her; she was one of the few women I knew who made it from operator on to head of one of the aircraft companies. Now, whether you could—this was a long time ago; I’m sure she’s not around. A woman who impressed me—and I wish I could remember; I didn’t meet her through a SHARE meeting, I met her through something else—was the woman who was the operations manager for the Livermore Laboratory. She had two hundred operators underneath her. And she—[laughs]—she was a woman that none of the men ever crossed. [laughs.] She was really—she was just so sure of herself.

I went to SHARE, and I would do different things, write different papers. I would go to their in-between meetings, where only the various heads of divisions in SHARE met. And I’m trying to think, who would I meet through SHARE that you might have known? I can’t think of anybody.

Abbate:

Well, what were those meetings like? How many women were there?

Campbell:

Oh, the first one I went to—[laughs]—was in San Francisco, and—I don’t know, I think maybe close to two thousand people—maybe not that big. They got to be easily two thousand after that. And I can remember going in—they had this thing at night they called SKIDS: Society to Keep Inebriated During SHARE! [laughter.] And it really was sad—this is where I learned to drink! I found I could drink scotch and water and last an evening quite well, and it was at this particular first one that I discovered this. But I got to the door of SKIDS and I looked in, and I noticed a sea of men. And this man standing behind me says, “Oh, go ahead, plunge in; it’s not that bad!” [laughs.] And I did meet a lot of people that way; this is how I met all these characters from the Berkeley laboratory.

Abbate:

That you then worked with . . .?

Campbell:

That I worked with later on. Jim Baker, and—oh, there were a whole lot of them. In fact, I had a friend that—she worked there, too; and she had some of us over for cocktails one night, and some of these people turned up! So I got to know a lot of them out there at that particular laboratory. But you’d get to know a lot of people that way.

Attending Other Meetings

Abbate:

Did you go to other kinds of meetings?

Campbell:

I went to one international computer meeting, and then the Spring Meeting, and the National Fall Meeting of the . . . I want to think of what they call these things; they were the big computer conferences . . .

Abbate:

The National Computer Conference?

Campbell:

Yes, I went to the Spring and the Fall ones of those. And I went, as I said, to these AESOP—the DOE conferences. And I went to one international one, but only because it was in this country; I never got abroad, unfortunately. And I used to—we had a whole—there was a woman from Lincoln there . . . I got to know a lot of the people who also went to these meetings, and particularly the women from other places in the [Boston] area. [laughs.] I remember, we all went off to some meeting, I think it was in Chicago, and this woman reporter came up and she said, “I understand that only women under forty ever work in computers.” Well, two of us standing there were over forty, so we thought that was very funny!

You know, the public’s impression of you was also hysterically funny . . .

Problems with the Personnel Office

Abbate:

What was that [impression]?

Campbell:

Well, I can go back now to my problems with the Personnel office. When they set up Lincoln Laboratory, they needed somebody to interview—to set up a programming group. And this woman from personnel calls up and she said, “Would you mind interviewing them for me? I can’t do it, because after all, programmers aren’t people.” We had some of the dumbest personnel officers you ever met in your life! So I did; and I set up a group, actually a pretty good group.

And then one time when I was hiring from Personnel, I said I would take a woman who hadn’t had such terribly high grades. And they asked Why? and I said, “Because she has the ability to get along with people and to talk to them, and one of our big problems is to get these students to tell us what it is they’re trying to do.” Well, they just couldn’t understand that—that you had to be able to talk to the people you worked for, so that you could understand what they wanted to do. They didn’t have any idea. And then when we got the terminals, they’d said to me, “Well, I don’t see why programming is so difficult; it’s just like running a typewriter.” [laughs.] You know, all sorts of things like that.

Oh, and then that very first year that I worked, to go back to the . . . You’d run into just as much discrimination from other women sometimes as you did from the men, which is sort of sad. But in this Radiation Laboratory they had hired an English major to do the editing. And I had this job. Along came the January after I had gone to work in June, and I got a $50 raise. Well, from $150 to $200 was pretty good. And I had one of the young kids that was helping me with the reading of the film sitting at my desk when I got the notice, and like a jerk I told her about it. So of course, you know—[it was] all over the place. And I’m in the ladies room, in one of the little booths, and the head secretary comes in along with this English major, and she—the English major—was fuming, “Why would she get that kind of money when I didn’t get a raise?” etc. etc. And so the woman was trying to explain to her that I’m a scarcer commodity [laughs]—you know, degrees in English were all over the place; there weren’t very many math degrees.

But they resented you. After I retired –

Abbate:

When did you retire?

Campbell:

I retired in 1982. Then I thought maybe I’d try to find part-time work somewhere, and I went to—I was talking to a man that I had known for a long time, an Al Hill, who had been very prominent at MIT. I’ve forgotten what he was doing then, but he was doing something at another place, and he said, “Come on over and talk . . .” And as soon as I got to Personnel, I realized this woman wasn’t about to hire me at all, if ever. And then I went to a job fair, and this young kid—and [I don’t know] whether he was just being nice or not, but he thought they might have something for me. And then I talked to the woman in charge, and I thought, “Oh, no. No go.” They’re just not—they really sort of lean over backwards . . . And then I had somebody in Personnel—and this was a woman I really knew and liked as a friend—she called up, she said, “I have just the person for you!” I was trying to hire. And she says, “You know, she comes from such a good family.” Well, you know—[laughs]—what do I want from a good family? She had the world’s most miserable disposition, which I didn’t realize when I hired her; it was only for a summer job. And by the time she left, everybody was so happy to see her go! But she had an older sister who had done very well in the field, and she just thought she was it, you know. She announced to the other women that she’d come to find a man! [laughs.] So they suggested where she might go—you know, nicely—they’d say, okay, go to the student—the students used to hold these big open dances. “No,” she says, “I’m too good for a student.” She wanted something higher up. The first man she worked for came to me and said, “Get her away from me!” And I didn’t ask him why; I didn’t have to! [laughs.] So, as I say, Personnel and I were not the greatest of friends. And whether it was me or them, I don’t really know, but it was always where I was having the problem of being thought of as something different.

But you know, it was great to go off to the SHARE meeting and all the other women and men doing the same thing, and nobody taking offense at your being a woman.

Reflections on Women in Computing

Abbate:

Did you find the other women had similar experiences as you?

Campbell:

I think some of them had worse experiences than I did. I don’t know. You know, I went to the first Grace Hopper meeting in Washington, DC, with a friend of mine here. And it was a great meeting, and in fact that’s where I met Thelma Estrin, and saw Jerry [Estrin] for the first time in years, because he had come with Thelma. But they were doing this—Minerva’s Machine, I think, was the name of it—and there was all this talk about sexual harassment. The thing that bothered me was, it’s no different in the computer industry than it is in any other place. It probably is more connected with the kind of atmosphere generated by the company you’re working for, rather than what it is you’re doing. Now, maybe I was better off at MIT, but I thought that that whole thing was exaggerated. That it really . . . And the thing they were doing was turning off—they had all these scholarships for students, and all the computer science women, the younger and middle-aged group, I thought were more discouraging these students than they were encouraging them. And that really bothered me. So, at the end of the meeting, I went to—Anita Borg was running the whole thing, and I went to the meeting Anita was running, and I said that two things bothered me about this meeting: There’s not very many in my age group here, and there’s too much discouraging of these students that you’ve got in here. And then I got to talking to her about the fact that there weren’t women in my group, and she said that Michael Williams had asked her to edit this journal, and she didn’t have the time, and would I like to do it? [laughs.] And that’s how I got involved with Michael Williams, because I said I would do it.

But whether or not . . . I have a feeling that my experience was more or less average, and I think it’s all in your attitude. They were setting up a group at MIT—“women and personal computers,” I think that was the name of it—anyway, I went to a couple of meetings. And there was one young women, and she had been a student at MIT—there were two of them—and they were really completely different. One woman was so antagonistic and so upset with what was going on, hating all men; and the other one was this very pretty kid, and she just felt that she had a harder time being a woman at MIT. The women students, I think, did have a much rougher time. She just felt she couldn’t assert herself. And the other one was asserting herself all over the place—this is what I meant by their being different; and she was older. But the young woman was running the group with somebody from the outside.

I met Sherry Turkle that way. You ever read any of Sherry Turkle’s books?

Abbate:

Oh yes.

Campbell:

I got her to speak a couple of times at things.

Abbate:

Well, do you think it’s easier or harder for women to enter computer jobs?

Campbell:

It’s harder for women—you know, it’s like what they say about any job: you always do it better just to keep them—you have to sort of over-excel to succeed.

Abbate:

Do you think that’s gotten easier over time?

Campbell:

So I can’t say that I think it’s perfect, by any means, now; and I can’t say that sexual harassment doesn’t exist. What I think is that there are a great many more opportunities for women. I mean, when I first came to work at MIT, you could count the number of women students on one hand. Now they’re like a third—almost a half—of the undergraduate population. And I’ve known a lot of graduate women, too. So I think things are improving.

There was this big complaint at MIT that came out a while back about women faculty, and now—it goes back and forth as to whether they really were being underpaid or not being underpaid, or underappreciated; but when you think of the faculty there that are in good positions, and women . . . You know, the only way I guess I can look at it is: it is so much better than it was. And really, people are so much better off. I think it only can improve.

The other thing is, you go through the economy: so now, when the economy is slowing down, I suspect that women will not do as well for a few years as they did during this big boom. And—I can’t remember when it was, but I remember going to a lecture by a personnel officer that was speaking—I think maybe from AT&T; but he wasn’t from one of the colleges, since this was some women’s program that I went to. And they were complaining about being let go, and he said, “Just remember this: that when these people need you and they come back and try to get you, they’re going to be out of luck, because you’re not going to go back to the ones that weren’t good to you; you’re going to go to the ones that didn’t discriminate. So they’re going to succeed first.” And he was pointing out—and I’ve heard a lot of people say this—that a lot of companies don’t realize how to take advantage of good personnel: because they may be minorities, they may be women, they may be older, and they just don’t realize that they may have—particularly with the case of the older woman—have a much better worker than they would with a white male. [laughs.] They just don’t realize what they’ve got out there. But I do think things are a lot better; I’m not discouraged by it.

I think what’s interesting, what I find here [at Lasell Village] is—where these are women, all pretty much my own age, that have moved in and are widows—that either they didn’t work, or they worked in different kinds of professions. If they got well known, they were unusual. There’s one woman here who used to be a heart surgeon—that’s really unusual. And there are a lot of women, people who are artistic in music, art, what have you, because I think maybe women could succeed in those fields. There’s one woman here, she’s got to be in her nineties, and she was a marvelous artist—she’d do art shows, and so on. But as far as being—that came in with the business world, not so many. And certainly not in the field of computers! The big thing here is that they want to learn email. So they are all—they decided to set up one-on-one tutoring, which I thought was a pretty good idea; but then it turned out that a lot of these tutors were students, and the students knew their computers, but they didn’t know how to teach them to somebody else—because it’s taken some of the women so long to learn how to send an email message, I can’t quite understand it! [laughs.] So, outside of the one woman I know who’s the editor, I don’t really know anyone who’s really versed in computers. So it was more unusual, because it was a field that perhaps didn’t attract women. And then these women who were in things like medicine and so forth, I think they’re just sort of unusual examples of the field, because medicine must have been a very hard field for women who are now in their seventies and eighties to have cracked years ago.

Family Life

Abbate:

Did you have any difficulties balancing your work with any kind of family commitments?

Campbell:

Well, I never did marry, but I don’t think that was a problem with the job. I think that was a problem of my own personal problems. But when my mother went into a nursing home and—I really had trouble trying to get to visit her and to carry on. Fortunately, I had gotten far enough along in the job that I could make my own hours. So I managed to do both things, but it did interfere somewhat with my social life, because I cut out other things. It went on for about two years.

And I think any other obstacles—sometimes I put them in my own way. In other words—I mean, anyone would have thought, going into a room full of, as I said, twenty-one men and me . . . [laughs] Well, MIT—this was where parents loved to have their daughters go [to work], because to be a secretary or something at MIT was much more elite, let’s say, than working in some commercial business. I mean, college jobs were considered good. Plus which, they were considered happy hunting grounds [for husbands]. But I never managed to make it a happy hunting ground. [laughs.]

Abbate:

Maybe you knew too much about those men!

Campbell:

Well, I don’t know if that was it or not. I think I was shy, and I think I—you know, there were some men that I’d have a relationship with, but it never really developed into anything. But I think it was more my own problems than the place, because, frankly, everyone I knew there wasn’t in the same boat.

And then I think, you know, it’s like—I also belong to the Appalachian Mountain Club, and that was where everybody else went to find a man! But then, there were groups of us that got married, and then there were those who didn’t. [laughs.] I have a lot of very good friends from that group, both men and women. And that was a lot of my social life, was things outside of MIT. In those days I was in much better shape, and I would ski, canoe, and I liked to travel. But the local things that you could do—the skiing and the canoeing and the . . . they were a very active group.

Reflections on Career in Computing

Abbate:

What were the most satisfying aspects of working with computers, for you?

Campbell:

I think that one of the most satisfying aspects was the challenge of solving a problem. For instance, if you ran a program and it didn’t work, that wasn’t really that discouraging, because the challenge then was to find out why it didn’t work. And one of the young women that I’d hired would say, “Come on; help me play detective.” I think she put it a very good way. It was problem solving—much more so, in a way, than it is now. Because I was programming in—not basic machine language; I never started out with the zeroes and the ones—but I started out with assembly language, which was, you know, one [assembly language] instruction for an [machine] instruction. So I knew assembly language on the 704; then I knew the basic language, the interpretive language, that was used on Whirlwind. And it was always a challenge to make it work. It was problem solving; it wasn’t just doing something routine. Now—I’m not as into these personal computers as some other people are, because it’s sort of—there again, learning a bunch of rules, how you do word processing; a bunch of rules, how you do this: it’s not the same; it’s not the challenge that programming was. There’s a big difference between using a machine with all these built-in programs and the kind where you were programming something. And plus which, there was the challenge—somewhere along with the mathematics of it—of getting a way of doing it that would work. And so I think the problem solving aspect of it was really the thing that intrigued me.

And then the other thing that intrigued me—and I can’t say you’d call it the biggest challenge, but in a way it was a challenge: that it was ever-changing. It never stayed the same; it was an industry that was moving at a very rapid pace. And there would always be sort of a lull, and then there would be some breakthrough: like when there was the graphics explosion, that kind of thing; there was always some big thing—like when time sharing came along. I mean, I was really excited when they put the CTSS system in at MIT. And you know, I remember other people not being—because I thought, “Look, it’s such a breakthrough”—I mean, Project MAC was a very exciting thing. So every time some big breakthrough comes through in computers—for example, I think for a lot of people it must have been very exciting when they started using things like Dragon Systems for input by voice.

Abbate:

I’m not familiar with that.

Campbell:

Dragon system is—oh, it’s local here, and I’m sure there are others; I know IBM has one. It’s where you don’t have to input with a keyboard or anything else; and it’s a real boon to the handicapped, because all you do is, you talk it in. The thing was, for a long while you—had—to—speak—just—like—this; slowly—and—distinctly. And you train the thing to recognize your voice. And it’s not easy; I have a brother who’s had trouble with it, because he has Parkinson’s disease. But all these things that have come through that are making—and I think a lot of the advances in artificial intelligence were fun to watch. They didn’t always succeed, but they were fun. I think all of the stuff that they did at the Advanced . . . and Project MAC, and now what Dertouzos is doing. That’s why I found this article in the Sunday Globe so interesting, because it talks about how, you know, you’re never going to do anything but talk to some piece of equipment. You say to the radio, “Turn on.” [laughs.] “Do this; do that.” And you know . . .

It was people like that, who are really working in the advanced fields, and really getting somebody. . . You ever heard of Nicholas Negroponte?

Abbate:

Oh yes.

Campbell:

Well, I think the stuff that he did was fascinating, the kinds of things that went on in that laboratory. Unfortunately, he was not such a terribly good speaker in explaining them to the layman. We had him come to speak at a women’s group, and I thought, “Oh God; you know, he’s really talking down to us.”

Abbate:

Do you have any advice for young women who are thinking about entering a computer career today?

Campbell:

To look the whole field over, and not get frightened off by either the fact that it’s mysterious, or nobody knows what they’re doing, or it’s dull and boring . . . You know, women say, “Oh, I’m not going to program; that’s terrible.” You know, programming in my day was exciting. I’ll admit that now it probably may not [be]. But if you’re a C programmer, I doubt if it’s dull even right now, if you’re doing it. But it has so many facets to go into it; you can do—you can just work with one of these things, like—you can go into the field of graphics, of art, and do tremendous things. It has so many different kinds of opportunities.

The other thing I can say is, to get involved with something like this Association for Women in Computing that I belong to, because then they would meet women who had been a success in the field, people who were currently young in the field—and actually it’s a great way of finding a job, too, because everybody brings their job postings. But I think to find out what other women are doing in the field, or have done in the field, is probably one way to get going. To get associated with that; and get associated with student groups that do it, and if you’re in science, Women in Science do a lot.

Abbate:

Can you say more about the Association for Women in Computing? Did you help found that?

On the Association for Women in Computing

Campbell:

No, I didn’t. It was founded in 1978. The way I found about it was—[laughs]—one of the young guys, one of the students that I had worked with, said, “You know, there’s a woman over here, and she’s telling us about this group that’s starting. It sounds just like the thing for you.” So I went to some of the early meetings. Then I dropped out for a while, because my mother was sick, and then I got more involved in it. And then after I retired, I thought, “Well, I really can do more.” This is when I took on one of the treasurer’s jobs for them, and then this Ada Lovelace [award].

It’s gone up and down in size. When it first started, it was pretty big. Then they had a time when—they got themselves organized with a professional management company that went off with their money. But then they recouped from that. It has about fourteen different chapters. We have student chapters; and it’s big in some places because, I think of the atmosphere, but you can’t really count . . . I mean, we have a pretty good-sized group here in Boston. One of the biggest chapters is the National—in fact I was—you probably should contact—I should give you a contact with the National chapter, because that’s probably one of our biggest groups, and one of the more interesting ones. They were the ones that, after we decided on Betty Holberton for the Ada Lovelace award, arranged all the details: the banquet, the award, inviting the right people to come, and so on. And they’re active. I’ll have to send it to you by email, though, because I don’t have anything except email addresses, and I don’t have those on the top of my head.

And there’s a Judy Floy, and I’m going to send you her address, because I think you should talk to Judy. And then there’s a woman down there . . . she did . . .they have a newspaper that’s published in D.C. about women in computing. But Judy could get you into all of these things. But this woman did a lot with this Betty Holberton thing about making tapes and so forth. Klieman, her name is.

Abbate:

Oh, right. Kathy?

Campbell:

You probably know her.

Abbate:

I think I’ve exchanged email with her. She’s written articles . . .

Campbell:

And there’s a Baltimore chapter, too. There’s a Joyce Little who’s really a very interesting person; you should talk to her.

Abbate:

Yes, I’m actually going to be interviewing her.

Campbell:

You certainly should, because she is interesting. And Joyce could probably tell you about some other people down there. Because all of my friends are now retired. I don’t know where some of the other women who were active in computing places like the National Bureau of Standards, for example, are. But I had a friend who worked at MIT, [that’s] how I got to know her; then she worked at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, and I know she worked for one of these early pioneering ladies. But she is now in Florida. My friends all end up in Florida or California! [laughs.] But I think Joyce Little is one of the outstanding ones.

And then . . . Do you have any access to any of the stuff from the Grace Hopper conferences?

Abbate:

Some of it. I’ve got the proceedings from the latest one, and at least a summary of the others—of which women were honored there.

Campbell:

Because there was the one where Milly Koss was there with Betty Holberton and Jean Bartik. . . . You know, there’s a man that’s interesting, too. When they did all of this stuff in Philadelphia during the war with ENIAC—and I can’t think of his name, but I’ll have to find it for you—and that was where I got all the information to do the editing that I did in the IEEE. And if I could ever find my boxes with all the extra copies of that IEEE thing, I’ll send you one.

Abbate:

Was that Barkley Fritz?

Campbell:

Yes.

Abbate:

He wrote an article about the women of ENIAC.

Campbell:

I talked to Barkley; Barkley’s interesting. He has a daughter up here, and he happened to be up here visiting her.

Have you talked to Michael Williams?

Abbate:

I actually haven’t talked to him about this project; I know him because we both do history of computing.

Campbell:

I don’t know what he’s doing now; and I cannot think of the man that he succeeded. The interesting thing I did with Michael Williams: we went to the launching of the U.S.S. Grace Hopper destroyer, in Bath. [laughs.]

Attending the U.S.S. Grace Hopper Launch

Abbate:

Oh, so you went to that?

Campbell:

Yes. I had been doing other editing for him, and so he called me up and said, “You know, you really should get some reward for doing this.” He had just taken over as Editor in Chief, so he could spend some money. So he said we’d fly from Boston to Portland, and he’d rent a car. And I don’t know why I didn’t say to him, “We’ll drive from Boston,” because that would have been the more sensible solution. Anyhow, I was to meet him at the airport. Well, he didn’t know me and I didn’t know him, so I knew this was going to be a problem; so I had a denim hat with a yellow flower on it, and I said, “Look for the denim hat with the yellow flower.” And then I got to the airport—and this can happen in Boston; it can be perfectly nice in town, and you get to the airport and it’s miserable. And wind that was so high, they didn’t know what planes were coming in, what planes were going out. And it was very cold. And they told me that he might not even come through Transit, the way they were routing people. Fortunately, he did, and we finally got on this plane to Portland, where we got the car. And here we’re driving in this really windy, cold weather through Bath. And it turned out he really didn’t know where he was going! [laughs.] After we had gone far enough, I knew we had gone by any possible place he was looking for. It was Cobb’s Corner he wanted, and I knew it was up there somewhere. Well, we stopped and asked and turned around, and went back to this hotel. And what was so funny about it was, we walk in and it’s all in Hawaiian decor, parrots and a pool and all this kind of stuff . . .

And then we went to the—He had an invitation. He had gotten up at 5:30 in the morning—here it was around midnight—to watch them go launch the ship. Not launch the ship, but do these . . .

Abbate:

Dedicate it?

Campbell:

No; it’s the thing—everybody takes part—there’s a name for this. They have these big things that go underneath the boat, prying it loose. You don’t get it actually in the water, but you get it to the point where they can get it in the water when the time comes. And so we did that, and then we went back to the dedication, and . . . Michael was a great one for taking pictures, and he was having a marvelous time running around. And it was so cold, they gave us blankets to sit on and blankets to put over us. And there was a group of women who set up, at the Bath Iron Works, a programming group; and they had these sweatshirts—which I think they and the guys were sharing, too—and it said “U.S.S. Grace Hopper” on the sweatshirts, so I bought one of those. And we watched the thing go into the water. And then we went back and . . . It was Grace Hopper’s sister and her granddaughter who did the thing. But everybody in town comes. It was like Old Home Week. I didn’t realize that launchings were such a popular thing. And he had such a fancy invitation, I didn’t realize that other people could walk in off the street to the launching! [laughs.] But it was fun.

He’s a very interesting person; he’s very nice.

Abbate:

Yes.

Women in Computing in Other Countries

Campbell:

I would like to do some more of that kind of editing, but I just never got around to doing anything more. And one [article] did get sent to me, but I never did get around to doing anything, because it came just at the time when I was trying to move.

But the other thing that interested me there, which I think at some point somebody ought to do something on, was women in computing in other countries. Because there’s really—he had sent me a paper a Dutch woman had written, and I couldn’t make any sense out of it; and I couldn’t get the original Dutch from her, which is what I would have liked to have done, because my secretary at MIT was Dutch, and she would have translated it for me. But neither one of us could make any sense out of the translation that she gave us. And she was very bitter about the whole thing. And I think I got another Dutch one, too, and that one wasn’t too favorable. But then . . .

It’s very interesting. Women in information technology in Ireland are really well off; that’s a favorable job to have. And I got a paper from that one, which I didn’t get around to publishing either, from—I went to an Irish genealogy reunion at BC [Boston College], and met this woman. But it’s an interesting thing . . . Germany, I think, is a good place. I would say Sweden probably was. When we do these Grace Hopper conferences, all these people turn up from foreign countries, and you find out—or you get an inkling at least—of what it’s like in other countries. And it is different. And you never know which . . . It was a Puerto Rican woman, I think, who was really having a great time; and actually I have a friend from Puerto Rico who has one of the best jobs in computing that I know. Now whether she—I think that they’ re not discouraged, let me say, from going into computing.

Abbate:

I’m going to be doing some work in the U.K., and get British women. Maybe Irish women . . .

Campbell:

I’ll see if I can find any of this material. It’s going to take me a while, because I’ve got to unpack. But it was very interesting, I thought, that women in information technology—they refer to it as IT over there—in IT were doing so well. I had a paper from a woman in England on artificial intelligence that was really very good . . .

Abbate:

Was that Alison Adam?

Campbell:

Yes, Alison Adam. She’s an interesting—I never met her, of course.

Abbate:

I hope to meet her.

Campbell:

And Denise Gürer.

Abbate:

But she’s not—isn’t she American?

Campbell:

She’s doing the same thing that you’re doing, collecting all these papers. She was the one that put that original ACM journal together.

Abbate:

Right, because I have some of her stuff.

Campbell:

It was a January issue . . .

Abbate:

1995, yes. I’ve got that. Yes, it would be great if someone else would do the other countries, because I can’t do them all.

Campbell:

I doubt that I’ll ever get the energy to do anything again. But I think that is the sort of thing that would be interesting to see. It’s not so bad doing it when you get other people to write the papers. I think the biggest problem I had there was getting reviewers. I know one of them . . . It was easy enough getting something from Thelma; and then this friend I had who had worked for the Bureau of Standards, she did one for me . . . Artificial intelligence—there was one woman in our group that had a smattering of knowledge artificial intelligence, and she’d gone to Radcliffe and she’d also I think taken some courses in it. So she read it for me. Because, to tell you the truth—it was a feminine thing, it was about the feminine influences in artificial intelligence, and I got parts of it, but parts of it I got lost in what she was talking about it. And apparently it was a work that had been criticized by other people, too. I thought—she wrote beautifully; whether or not it was good—I wasn’t so sure of the content, but her writing was excellent.

You know Herb Grosch?

Abbate:

Yes.

Other Women in Computing

Campbell:

[laughs.] He came to the thing we had for Betty Holberton. But you know, talking about people who were always around in the computing field: there was Computer World, there was Herb. And it’s too bad that I don’t know where Jean Sammet it, because I think she is one of the most interesting ones of the lot, I really do. Now, she’s to get to, because of the fact that—as I said, she’s not a feminist, she’s not too sure that this is what—but she did things that nobody else did. She wrote that book, The Tower of Babel [sic].

Abbate:

I have her email, anyway.

Campbell:

You can tell her you know me. At least it will break the ice. It may not do much more! [laughs.]

Abbate:

Well, everyone, in their list of people I should talk to, mentions her. And they all warn me, “She’s not a feminist!”

Campbell:

The only reason I say that is, she’s a very blunt woman. I must say, I like Jean; I always have. But I can see what some of her problems were in the business. When we decided to do this ACM thing together, we really were working with a bunch of not-too-nice men. And she would rise to their bait, and I just thought, I just wouldn’t pay any attention to them. Because they were nasty, they really were. And I just took on a very easy job—I said we would take over the entertainment side of the thing: where to go for tours, where to go for the restaurant, and so forth—because I thought, “This way I don’t have to argue anything technical with those guys.” And I do know Boston . . . I’ve forgotten what Jean was doing, but they were giving her a hard time.

But you know, she was—and she had a woman who worked with her that was very good, too. Jean was very brilliant, but she’s sort of scatterbrained. [laughs.] For example, I came in one day at the condo, and there is Jean—her car door is open, the keys are in the ignition . . . [laughs]. She probably rushed in. But she really is a very warm-hearted, a very nice person. I broke my leg: she had me up for dinner . . . She just really is. It’s just that . . . She’s very honest about it, she’ll say, “I never really went for this ‘woman’ thing.” [laughs.]

But she ran that computing center that IBM had over at Tech Square; and did that format program, and that was not an easy thing to do. And I’ve heard her give papers and things, and she’s . . . She and Herb Grosch could argue like mad! [laughs.] She’s a very interesting personality, and I think she really is one of the leaders in the field, because she did so much with the languages. She was really sort of early in that game.

Then there was another one—and I don’t know where she ever ended up—she ran the Civil Engineering Laboratory’s computer at MIT. And her name was Betsy something-or-other, and whether I could ever find Betsy’s last name, I don’t know. But she was a brilliant systems programmer, and she would give IBM no end of trouble. And I would love to go to seminars and wait for Betsy to ask a question! It was going to really pull the guy down. [laughs.] And there was a guy that programmed for the Draper Laboratory at MIT, and he and Betsy would take apart anybody who came in. He would do it in a nice way, because he was a very quiet person; but she was flamboyant. And I don’t know what happened to her after—because she set up the 360/65 when the main computing center couldn’t do it. And then she disappeared from sight; I don’t know what happened to her. She probably went on to some other place. But she was one of the ones I have never heard mentioned by anyone else except people at MIT; but she really was up there with the best of them.

Abbate:

If you remember her last name, I’d love to know.

Campbell:

There was a Marjorie Merwin—who now is married and is somebody else—who was one of the people who worked for Corby at MIT. I always thought she was very good. There was a whole crew of people that went through MIT, either visiting or working there and so forth, that were fascinating to know. Marjorie was good in the fact that she was a great teacher. Corby was good, but you couldn’t always understand him!

Abbate:

That’s Corbatò?

Campbell:

Corbatò, yes, but everybody called him Corby.

But you know, it was little things like—I can’t remember which one of these wise guys; Al Perliss, I think—they were having a meeting on NPL programming language that IBM was trying to develop, and he got up and said, “What is that—the Needless Programming Language?” [laughter.] It was funny . . . I suppose everybody liked to see people beat up on IBM! [laughs.]

Tension with IBM

Abbate:

Was there tension between the academic people and IBM over how things should be done?

Campbell:

Oh yes. I mean, when—IBM was so sure they were going to get [the contract for] Multics, and then when Corby selected GE—there was a lot of ranting and raving and so on. And the GE salesman was then hired by MIT. I don’t remember what he ended up running. He wasn’t an academic like Corby or like Bob Fano, so I never knew him as being so involved with things; but he was running the general computing laboratory at one point. And then he retired.

Then, way, way back—and this is nothing that you can use, it just shows the kinds of characters that turned up—there’s a man named Frank that got into computing at MIT very early. He ran the 650; I remember trying to take a course on the 650 with him, and realizing that he was out for power, and he was out to run the—and he did run it for a while—the big computing center. And he and I clashed—[laughs]—because the physics department had decided that my programming group really should have an office in the center. But he didn’t want me, so he assigned us an office space: I went down to measure it, and I thought, “This is great: if I put the chairs on top of the desks, we can all get in!” So I complained loudly and long, and then . . . The one that took up my cause, it was interesting, was that guy in basic research one, the one that couldn’t understand what women were doing taking courses and so forth: he offered me a lovely office in his laboratory. Which I took, naturally. Frank was pretty well disliked by everybody, and he had done some contract work for Stone and Webster and then sold it to somebody else—he’d done a few things that were not quite legal. So he eventually got run out of the place; he left. And then later on they hired another man, whose name I don’t remember, to run this same computing center. And I walked in, and I thought, “It can’t be!” He looked identical to Frank. And they were all talking about it. And one of the guys said, “Go in and talk to him. I can’t get along with him. You didn’t do too badly with Frank; go in and talk to this one and see what you can do!” [laughs.] He didn’t last very long, either. People went in and out of the computing business so rapidly . . .

[phone rings; tape pauses]

Reflections on Life After Computer Programming

Campbell:

Is there anything more I can tell you? I did make some notes; let me go pick them up and see if I see anything.

Abbate:

Oh, thanks very much.

Campbell:

[looking through notes] I’m trying to put something together to write this memoir that I want to put together. I’ve been thinking of doing it as chapters and then connecting them with a little bit of narrative.

Abbate:

What would your chapters be on?

Campbell:

Well, I would have one on this crazy interview that I had. Then I was going to do one on my experiences with the woman at the airport, the one that got the $85. And then you, know, what I did later on with the other laboratories, with the lab for nuclear science, and running their computing center. And the networking project, the direct data project, because that was the only one where I did any real research.

Abbate:

Did you publish any of that?

Campbell:

The networking stuff I did publish, as an MIT Report. But for the life of me, I don’t know what I did with my copy—the last time I wanted to use it, I went to the MIT library and got it out. [laughs.] They were published as sections of this big report that the DOE project put out.

Oh, well one thing—one way I have kept up with computers since then, besides the Association for Women in Computing. There was the Boston Computing Society that I used to go to, and then they folded; but they had a group known as the Seniors’ Group, and we have now set up—they continue to keep going on their own, and they meet here at the Newton Senior Center. And they asked me to be on their board of directors, primarily because they thought it would be a good idea to have a woman on their board of directors. [laughs.] They had one, and she was feeling kind of lonely, I think. Now the board of directors is at least 50 percent women, I think. And the group is much more women than it used to be; it used to be all men. But it’s an interesting group of people. But I can’t really get myself involved the way they do: you know, these guys get up at 6:00 in the morning, get onto the Internet . . . I tease them, I say, “Well, you’ve got somebody to do your housework!” [laughs.] But that has kept me active, too, and I like to go to the different meetings. And there’s one woman here who teaches computers here at the Village; but she and I are the only two that are involved in that group, the only two that are really into computers. There’s one man who is into them somewhat, but he doesn’t do much with them. As I said, primarily it’s all these people wanting to write email to their grandchildren.

But I do try to keep up with what’s going on in the world, reading the journals, the newspapers, and what have you, but that’s about it. But as I said, I would like to do some more writing. And as I said, I would love to see somebody do something on women in other countries.

I wonder what it’s like for women in developing countries? Like China and so forth. You figure that the male Chinese—and whatever women came through the laboratory; I had two different Chinese women who worked for me—were always very good. I couldn’t keep one of them because we couldn’t get her a visa; they had too many Chinese professors they were trying to get visas for. They were very nice in Personnel, but they said, “We sort of have to keep this academic . . .” They said, “If you really thought she was going to stay around . . .” but I said, “No, she’s here for a couple of years with her husband, so I can’t say that she’ll stay after he leaves.” But then you wonder what it’s like when they get [back] in the country that they’ve come out of, what it’s like. We had a lot of Indian women in the laboratory, but—I don’t think Indian women—certainly [laughs] the Indian women—Indian women and Indian men were terrible when it came to computers. Because they were high-caste, they’d never done anything with their hands. And at that point, when we had the first computer we had, we did have people using it themselves. And they were disastrous if they got anywhere near the thing. [laughs.] But they just weren’t used to handling equipment. But they were into it like mad, particularly the Chinese.

I volunteered in the schools, that was another thing that I did after I retired. I read this thing about—they were using Logo. Are you familiar with that? Seymour Papert?

Abbate:

Yes.

Campbell:

Well, I had known Seymour, and I had known Sherry Turkle, so I thought, “Well, I’ll go over and take the class on Logo.” Well, here again it was difficult for me, because the woman teaching the class went around the room asking, “What do you do?” “I’m a housewife”; “I’m this”; “I’m that . . .” and I quietly said, “Well, I used to work at MIT”—I thought I would just leave it at that, quietly! And she said, “Well, would you like to teach the class?” “No,” I said, “because this is not the kind of computer I worked on.” But that was fascinating, working with the kids on the Logo; that was fun. Particularly—it was a sixth grade that I started out with, and it had a very good computer teacher. And so I would go around the room. Because they would put people—they were trying to get people—they were really good, and they would run classes for these teachers. But then they would never give them, to my mind, enough material. Like, another sixth grade teacher, they were using, I think it was Logo Writer, they were also using—it was a great program, it has an Irish immigrant database, and the kids take it and decide what they would do if they were one of these Irish immigrants: where they would live, what kind of a job they would get, and all of this. And it was a fascinating thing to work on. But I couldn’t get the books for the Logo and the Logo Writer program that he was using. They distributed it, one day when he was out; I found it and read it. And he was, with those kids, one of the best teachers; in fact he was one of the best computer people that I know. But he would tease me; I’d ask him a question and he’d say, “Didn’t they teach you that at MIT?” He was one of these—he worked with Seymour and another guy over there on these— Brookline [school system] was a partner on the Logo projects. So it was fun working over there with them.

But I learned a lot about how children react with computers. I found out that there’s nothing more fun than six-year-olds, because they have no fear of the thing. The fourth graders who would come in and tell me, “I’m here to set up the computers for the next class!” [laughs] —says one little boy. And I said, “Well, you’ll have to wait till I finish with the computers for this class.” They were fun to work with. They had a lot of stuff for the children in the first to eighth grades. They didn’t have too much for the kids in the high school, which I thought was too bad, because they wanted to do real things, like data collection on different kinds of physics research, and so forth. And then they had an adult education center there, which was extremely good. But that I am not good at: working with adults. I tried the adults for two semesters and decided: Go back to the kids. Because they’re easier and more fun. And because they are so—most of them are excited about it. Once in a while I would find some—this is when the AUW [Association of University Women] was talking about teachers favoring boys. And I discovered that’s exactly what they were doing, and it was awfully hard not to do it, because the boys would say, “Come look!” It was “Come see, Miss Campbell! Come see, Miss Campbell!” And the girls, you had to go over and ask them what they were doing. And so I decided to concentrate on one kid, who really wanted to learn, but she was utterly, utterly lost. Well, I finally got her through simple Logo, and so on. But there again, the boys resented that I was doing it. And I had the class one day—We only had one printer, which was terrible, because the kids had to line up. And this girl put it in, and it didn’t work. I had made a mistake; I had told her the wrong thing. So I said, “You go back and fix it and get back, and I’ll put you in the front of the line.” Well! [The boys said,] “You’re doing that because she’s a girl.” And I said, “No, I’m doing that because I made a mistake.” “Oh, I don’t believe that. You’re doing it because she’s a girl.” They just didn’t—they thought they should get the attention in the class. So it was very difficult not to give it to them. But they were fun kids to work with. I think the sixth grade’s a lot of fun.

Abbate:

Well, thank you so much! I don’t want to keep you all day.

Campbell:

That’s all right. Any time . . .