Recognizing the Women Who Wove the Web

Claire L. Evans has discovered the solution to our social media woes: “Go back to BBS.” She means bulletin board systems, those grunge-era digital hangouts, like the Well and Echo, where users linked up based on mutual interests and supported one another. (So civilized.) Earlier this year, Evans even installed BBS server software on her Raspberry Pi to test her theory. “That kind of small-scale, self-­policed social media could serve as a balm to us all,” she says.

As the author of a jaunty new history of women in computing, , Evans spent years uncovering the contributions of tech’s forgotten foremothers, from the developers of early compilers and Arpanet protocols to the makers of radical videogames and, yes, inclusive preweb forums. (Nearly half the users of Echo, which was created by Stacy Horn in response to the Well’s proto-brogrammer vibe, were women—at a time when the internet was 90 percent male.)

These pioneers recognized the human side of tech, making code more accessible and hypertext more multidisciplinary. Often, they came at tech sideways, from backgrounds in theater, math, linguistics, even cave exploring. (Shout-out to speleologist-coder Patricia Crowther.) “The more broadly we can think about technological problems,” Evans says, “the better the end result will be.” She would know. When she’s not chronicling our overlooked cyberfeminist past, Evans sings in the dance-pop group Yacht. In her vision for tech, weird is ­welcome.

Because of These Women …

Betty Holberton
… UNIVAC made its desktop computers beige (not black).

Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler
… web domains are ­categorized by type: .gov, .edu., .com.

Radia Perlman
… spanning-tree protocol keeps Ethernet from crashing.

Janet Walker
… web browsers have bookmarks.

Women in Tech

  • The dangers of keeping women out of tech
  • How to buck the brogrammer culture and get women into STEM
  • The most awesome codebreaker in World War II was a woman


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