Jean Bartik's comments on her colleagues

For many years Jean Bartik, and the other women who were involved in the development of computers, had no recognition for the enormous contributions they made. However, Kathy Kleiman wrote about their contributions in 1985 and after that they gain the recognition they deserved. After Jean Bartik died, Kleiman wrote:-
Jean Bartik was one of the most creative and interesting people I ever met. She was warm and humorous, straight-forward and crystal clear. She would regale us with stories of the ENIAC and computer history, still so real for her, and then listen intently as someone explained our modern systems to her.
Jean Bartik gave many interviews; we have given references to some in her biography. In these interviews she often made comments about people she worked with. We encourage anyone to read these interviews in full but, to show the flavour of her comments, we give some of them below:

On Douglas Hartree
  1. Douglas Hartree ... was as cute as a button! He worked with Kay Mauchly on one of his problems; she worked with him to teach him how to program the ENIAC, and also they ran the problem. We were down at Aberdeen for the 50th Anniversary, and they're still working on the same problem! - which she found very interesting. Anyway, Douglas Hartree: We loved him. We used to go out to dinner with him. At that time in England, there were food shortages, and rationing, and all this kind of stuff - so he liked to come over here to eat!
  2. Douglas Hartree was a fabulous person. He had built a differential analyzer using Meccano parts that ran! It did jobs. He was a brilliant man. He loved us, and we loved him. He gave a party for us before he left. That was one of the cutest parties I've ever seen. We played games, and we had dinner, and then his wife played the piano and he sang all the Gilbert and Sullivan songs! We thought, "Gosh, we've never been to a party like that before!" It was really wonderful.

On John von Neumann
  1. John Mauchly and Presper Eckert hated von Neumann to the day they died. They despised him.
  2. Presper Eckert in his eulogy to John Mauchly said he is the most brilliant man he ever met. Now, he certainly worked with von Neumann, I mean nobody doubts that von Neumann was brilliant; everybody admits that; the question is was he ethical? And the answer is "No."
  3. We worked with Johnny von Neumann, and he was a very exciting consultant. He spoke with a very ingratiating manner, almost as though he were apologizing for what he was saying, although he knew he wasn't. Herman Goldstine claimed that he used to walk over to his open door when a pretty girl walked down the hall, he'd be talking away and he'd walk over and watch her walk down the hall. I don't know if that's true or not! He used to scratch himself inadvertently at times, and stuff like that. But he was very ingratiating, and very logical. I mean, we'd go and tell him, "This isn't working well; we need to do something different," and he'd make various proposals of things we could do. We'd try them out and come back and tell him the results, and things like that. That's basically the way it worked.

On Grace Hopper
  1. Grace Hopper was an alcoholic when I knew her. She used to reek to high heaven! When I was in Washington, after I left there, she was supposed to give some presentation, and got drunk and couldn't do it; and she was always trying to get the men in bed with her. So they finally said to her, "Either clean up your act or you're out." So she went to a treatment centre and got cleaned up, and as far as I know, she never drank again. But women didn't like her, because she always had these toy boys on her arm. And she never gave anybody credit for anything, except herself! Women didn't like her. In fact, I don't know if anybody went to her christening of the ship that was named after her, because they called me up, and I certainly wasn't going, and I don't know of anybody that went.
  2. Grace Hopper wasn't that bright; come on. She wasn't any brighter than the rest of them. She certainly didn't hold a candle to Presper Eckert and John Mauchly. There was no innovation in her life, so far as I know. But that's why women didn't like her.

On Herman Goldstine
  1. John Mauchly and Presper Eckert despised Herman Goldstine. Presper wouldn't be in the same room with Goldstine for years, but his wife told me that just before he died, she was in the hospital one day, and a nurse said, "Goldstine wants to talk to you." She said, "Oh, forget it; he doesn't want to talk ... " and Presper said, "Oh, yes I do!" He said that Herman had been calling him, and they had been talking. Nobody knows what they talked about - well, Goldstine probably does, but who would believe him? I mean, he has Parkinson's now. But anyway, he did talk to him before he died, and apparently he had a number of conversations with him.
  2. ... the Goldstines invited us up for dinner. So we went up there for dinner, and I said something about Herman Goldstine being an assistant of von Neumann. He hit the roof! - "I'm not an assistant to von Neumann!" I said, "Well, how come you're at the Institute?" So he said, "I'm here because I'm being honoured for the work I did during the war!" Well, that is true to some extent, because most of the mathematicians that worked at Aberdeen were given three months at Princeton, at the Institute. You know, Einstein was there at that time, and Veblen, and von Neumann; there were a lot of people there. ... they even had tea with Einstein! So they were given three months.
  3. ... the history of the ENIAC is very interesting. I mean the University of Pennsylvania wants to claim it for itself, and Aberdeen doesn't want to claim anything. And I found it interesting that when Aberdeen did the 50th Anniversary, they never even mentioned Presper Eckert and John Mauchly. Everything they did, the soldiers' salute and everything, for Goldstine. It was all Goldstine and von Neumann. ... And the keynote speaker was von Neumann's daughter, she's an economist. I mean it was absolutely the worst thing. And I had never seen Goldstine's book before, they gave us Goldstine's book. And that's when I realized he was such a liar. ... how on earth could you write a book and tell lies like that. It's really horrible. ... when Goldstine wrote his book, Princeton Press, had readers. Now normally they don't tell the author who the readers are, but John Mauchly was given a copy to read, and he made many changes and sent it back. Princeton Press called him up and told him that they had to tell Goldstine who the reader was because the changes were so extensive; they told Goldstine the reader was John Mauchly and he didn't make any changes, but they printed the book.

On John Mauchly and Presper Eckert
  1. [At first] I was afraid of Presper Eckert, I had never really been around him, and I said to John Mauchly if he ever yells at me I'm out of here. John said, "Oh, I don't think he's going to yell at you", and he never did. And he also is a wonderful teacher. He's different from John. Their personalities are so different because John, he is one of the most responsive people that I think I've ever met. If you go up to him and you'd be singing a song, he'd sing with you. I mean, if you go up to him and quote some poetry, he'd quote some more, and John's a terrible punster. Well I never talked about anything personal with Presper. I mean, Presper decided to talk to you; you didn't decide to talk to Presper.
  2. John Mauchly and Presper Eckert: I loved those men. I didn't just like them, I loved them. I mean I would have done anything for either one of them. They were so open. ... you could ask them any question in the world, and it's funny but as brilliant as they were, they never made me feel stupid. They never made fun of a question you asked, they answered it. They usually saw it as more complex then I'd even thought of, you know? I've always said that because Presper was so focused that you became very focused, and you were the most important person in the world when you were talking to him. It's true. Because he listened to every word. People don't listen. I mean, when you did something for him and reported to him about it, he'd listen to every word. ... you wanted to do everything for him. I mean, both of them, I felt that way about both of them. And they complimented each other so well, because John said that the thing about Presper was when he would give him an idea, Presper would say "Well, we can do it if we're careful." And he said "He never pooh-poohed any of my ideas." He's always considered them. And John says that he believed that Presper was the greatest component engineer in the country at that time, in terms of components.
  3. ... people were inspired by Presper Eckert and John Mauchly.
  4. John Mauchly's a great teacher in the sense that he always pushes you.

On Presper Eckert and family
  1. Presper's wife, Hester, died tragically. The two of them had a son named John, and then about a couple of years later they had a son named Chris. And Hester went into postpartum depression and was in a mental institution afterwards. She came home one weekend for a visit and she took the oldest boy, and she overdosed on drugs, and went to bed. And with him in her arms, and they came and found her dead and with that little boy asleep, it was terrible. ...
  2. I went into his office, and Presper opened a drawer and it was full of drugs and stuff. And he explained that Hester would overdose on drugs, so he had no drugs in the house. Everything that anybody needed, he had in his desk drawer in the office. He was afraid she'd commit suicide - well she did. I mean, after their first child was born he bought her a gold Cadillac convertible, it was beautiful. Yellow I mean, it was really yellow. And his son John Eckert was brilliant. Well John went to Vietnam, and was wounded. He got hooked on drugs during his recuperation, and for the rest of his life he was, off and on, hooked on drugs and alcohol.
  3. Presper was a widower for quite a number of years. He was always interested in music, and so he was singing in some choir and he met Judith singing in this choir. Judith became his second wife.

Last Updated July 2012