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Top Secret Rosies: The Female 'Computers' of WWII (2010)

In 1942, when computers were human and women were underestimated, a group of female mathematicians helped win a war and usher in the modern computer age. Sixty-five years later their story has finally been told.

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In 1942 a secret US military program was launched to recruit women to the war effort. But unlike the efforts to recruit Rosie to the factory, this search targeted female mathematicians who would become human 'computers' for the Army. From the bombing of Axis Europe to the assaults on Japanese strongholds, women worked round-the-clock shifts creating ballistics tables for every weapon in the US arsenal. Rosie made the weapons, but the female computers made them accurate. When the first electronic computer (ENIAC) was developed to aid the Army's calculation efforts, six of these women were tapped to become its first programmers. While the work of these human computers proved crucial to allied victory, it also carried a moral weight - how to square the larger issue of ending a world war against the personal recognition that their mathematical computations made every Allied bomb and gun more deadly. The summer of 2010 marks the 65th anniversary of the end of WWII, yet the amazing account ... Written by LeAnn Erickson

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In war, math may be the most secret weapon of all.

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Documentary | War

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2010 (USA)  »

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1.78 : 1 / (high definition)
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A forgotten part of WWII finally getting its due.
24 January 2012 | by (Bradenton, Florida) – See all my reviews

I love historical films and documentaries--which isn't surprising as I am a retired history teacher. And, of these films, the ones that are often my favorites are ones that introduce the viewer to little-known aspects of history--people or events that have been overlooked over the years. So, when I noticed "Top Secret Rosies" on Netflix, I was sure to give it a viewing.

The film is about a group of women who were vitally important to the war effort during WWII--though I've never heard of their work discussed. Apparently, to make bomb sites and artillery effective, they needed to create long and very complex mathematical tables--huge books which helped them calculate the trajectories of weapons. So, people manned adding machines and VERY simple computers and worked multiple shifts--all to get this work done as soon as possible. This story is about these folks--in particular, the women who worked these primitive computational machines.

In addition to discussing their work, there is some discussion of the moral implications of this as well. In other words, these calculations were made to kill people--and not just with conventional bombs or projectiles but ultimately, the atomic bomb. There also was a segment that talked about how these women, unlike 'Rosie the Riveter' and WACs and the like, were never acknowledged--even though they made a huge contribution to the war effort.

All in all, an interesting documentary that's pretty well made, though I doubt if it's something that will appeal to the casual viewer.


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