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Women Heroes: Mary Allen Wilkes

Mary Allen Wilkes was a renowned computer scientist who gained recognition for building her home computer, a feat that placed her among the pioneers of computing

Early Life and Education

Mary was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1937 and graduated from Wellesley College in 1959 with an undergraduate degree in Philosophy. Her curiosity in computer programming was sparked by her eighth-grade geography teacher's suggestion, leading her to work at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory from 1959 to 1963.


At MIT, Mary's primary task was to create a programming language on LINC that could be used by beginners. She worked with early computers such as IBM 709 and TX-2, where she simulated LINC on the TX-2 computer. Mary's work involved writing a sequence of LINC operating systems named LAP1 to LAP6, which acted as both operating systems and code assemblers for LINC. LAP allowed users to write programs in an assembly language specifically developed for LINC or machine code. She wrote the LAP6 Handbook and co-authored the Programming the LINC book with Wesley A. Clark. Mary's conceptualization and implementation of the first operating system that sat between a program and the actual computer hardware made LINC a significant achievement.

In 1965, Mary became the first person to develop and work on a home computer, earning her recognition as the first home computer user. She is recognized for developing the assembler-linker model used in modern programming compilers. She left MIT and joined The Washington University in St. Louis at their Computer Systems Laboratory, where she designed the multiply macromodule. Mary was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Association for Computing Machinery.

After leaving computer science, Mary pursued a law degree at Harvard University Law School and became a practicing attorney in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is remembered in the field of computer science for her contributions to both computer programming and hardware engineering.

Next time you use your personal computer, remember that it was made with the help of Mary Allen Wilkens.



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