Proving Ground

The Untold Story of the Six Women Who Programmed the World's First Modern Computer


By Kathy Kleiman

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Discover a fascinating look into the lives of six historic trailblazers in this World War II-era story of the American women who programmed the world's first modern computer.

After the end of World War II, the race for technological supremacy sped on. Top-secret research into ballistics and computing, begun during the war to aid those on the front lines, continued across the United States as engineers and programmers rushed to complete their confidential assignments. Among them were six pioneering women, tasked with figuring out how to program the world's first general-purpose, programmable, all-electronic computer—better known as the ENIAC—even though there were no instruction codes or programming languages in existence. While most students of computer history are aware of this innovative machine, the great contributions of the women who programmed it were never told—until now. 

Over the course of a decade, Kathy Kleiman met with four of the original six ENIAC Programmers and recorded extensive interviews with the women about their work. Proving Ground restores these women to their rightful place as technological revolutionaries. As the tech world continues to struggle with gender imbalance and its far-reaching consequences, the story of the ENIAC Programmers' groundbreaking work is more urgently necessary than ever before, and Proving Ground is the celebration they deserve.

  • "Kleiman’s persistence in sleuthing out the story of the ENIAC 6 programmers has resulted in an admirable contribution to the historical record and a labor of love."
    Wall Street Journal
  • “While early women programming pioneers Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper have taken their place in the annals of computer history, Kleiman shows us that there were other women programmers — like the ENIAC 6 — who deserve to be recognized as well.”
    Associated Press
  • "[Author] Kleiman became obsessed with learning the identities of all the earliest women programers. The result of that magnificent obsession was a documentary in 2014 and this book, which melds social history with the major events of the second world war and the biographies of these six remarkable pioneers to produce an irresistible narrative."

    The Guardian
  • “Everyone told Kathy Kleiman that the women she sought did not exist. Thankfully, she didn’t believe them. In Proving Ground, Kleiman pursues her subjects with the instincts of an investigative journalist, uncovering the stories of six groundbreaking women who battled sexism, complex trajectory equations, and blown vacuum tubes in order to program the world’s first digital computer. With unforgettable, detailed prose, Kleiman blends the history of early computing with the lives of the women who made modern programming possible. Proving Ground is a book so deeply inspiring that it has the power to completely alter how we see the technology field and the role of women within it.”
    Nathalia Holt, New York Times bestselling author of Rise of the Rocket Girls
  • “With this book, Kathy Kleiman restores the ENIAC 6 to their rightful, lauded place in the history of computing. The bond she developed with these women through her years of research and interviews is evident, as each of them come vibrantly and vividly alive in her writing. Their story will serve as inspiration for generations of women in STEM.”
    Keith O’Brien, author of Fly Girls
  • “Kleiman has a novelist’s gift for crafting a page-turning narrative, and the one on offer is both revelatory and inspiring. Fans of Dava Sobel’s The Glass Universe and Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures are in for a treat.”
    Publishers Weekly, starred review
  • “Kathy Kleiman's courageous pursuit across decades discovering and sharing the story of the extraordinary contribution of these first programmers and founding inventors gives us a gift that can change the future - empowering a more welcoming technical innovation culture for all.”
    Megan Smith, Former United States Chief Technology Officer and CEO shift7
  • "An important and inspiring little-known narrative in modern computing history."
    Kirkus Reviews
  • "Kleiman excels at capturing the pressures of working in technology during a highly stressful period in history, particularly when the results of technological trials directly impacted war efforts. . . [T]he inclusion of direct interviews with the women and the clear passion for their stories make Proving Ground a needed and welcome addition to the shelves of computer history."
  • "A compelling account of a group of pioneering women."
    Library Journal
  • "Kleiman explores the lives of [the ENIAC six] and their ground-breaking work in this inspiring history. "
    Arlington Magazine
  • "Kathy Kleiman’s debut nonfiction is a celebratory biography of the six women who helped program ENIAC, the first general-purpose computer. In engaging prose, she describes how the women found opportunities during World War II, while many men were overseas, and overcame discrimination and harassment to accomplish their important work."
    Christian Science Monitor

On Sale
Jul 25, 2023
Page Count
320 pages

Kathy Kleiman

About the Author

Kathy Kleiman is a leader in Internet law and policy and currently teaches at American University Washington College of Law. Her passion for finding the truth behind these female programmers led to her founding the ENIAC Programmers Project, which completed a documentary on the subject of this book titled "The Computers: The Remarkable Story of the ENIAC Programmers." The film premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival in 2014 and won the UNAFF Grand Jury Award For Best Short Documentary at the United Nations Association Film Festival in 2016.  

Learn more about this author