African-American women in computer science were among early pioneers in computing in the United States, and there are notable African-American women working in computer science.


Melba Roy Mouton, an early programmer at NASA
Melba Roy Mouton, an early programmer at NASA

African-American women were hired as mathematicians to do technical computing needed to support aeronautical and other research. They included such women as Katherine G. Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan, who had careers of decades at NASA.[1] Among Johnson's projects was calculating the flight path for the United States' first mission into space in 1961. She is credited as co-author of 26 scientific papers. The practice in 1960 was to list only the head of the division as author. The crediting of Johnson as an author in a peer-reviewed NASA report is significant.[2]

Black women were also among the ENIAC programmers,[3] who programmed the first digital computer for the US Army. Their stories have not been documented. Given the dearth of information regarding the contributions of women in early computer science, it is likely that other Black women have made significant contributions to computer science and society.[4]

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) was founded in 1947, but computer science developed later as an academic field. In 1969, Clarence "Skip" Ellis became the first Black man to earn a doctorate degree in computer science. In 1981, Deborah Washington Brown became the first Black woman to earn a doctorate degree in computer science (then part of the applied mathematics program) from Harvard University.[5] A year later, in 1982 Marsha R. Williams[6] further integrated the field when she earned her doctorate degree in computer science.[7]

In the mid-1980s, the representation of women in computer science peaked at approximately 40%.[8] The decline in the representation of women has been attributed by some analysts to the increased marketing of personal computers and video games to boys.

There has been a decline in women of all races in computing in the United States; the representation of Black women in the field has continued to be lower than that of white female peers. For example, in 1985 when the number of women in computing was at a high, 77% of the related degrees were earned by White women, while fewer than 8% were earned by Black women.[9] In 2002, 1.3% of the computer science doctorate degrees earned were awarded to Black women. In 2017, two female computer scientists Timnit Gebru and Rediet Abebe founded the workshop Black in AI, in order to help increases the presence and inclusion of Black people in the field of artificial intelligence (AI).[10][11]


The representation of black women in computer science has been historically low.[12][13][14][15][16] The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System[9] (IPEDS) reports the following data:

Computer Science Degree Completion Rates for Black and White Women (from IPEDS Completion Survey by Race)
Year Black Women (degrees) White Women (degrees)
1977 139 (BS), 26 (MS), 0 (PhD) 1,275 (BS), 364 (MS), 18 (PhD)
1987 1,536 (BS), 81 (MS), 1 (PhD) 9,388 (BS), 1,488 (MS), 40 (PhD)
1997 1,179 (BS), 182 (MS), 1 (PhD) 3,599 (BS), 965 (MS), 66 (PhD)
2007 1,624 (BS), 345 (MS), 12 (PhD) 3,620 (BS), 1,141 (MS), 81 (PhD)

Between 1977 and 2013 (the years in which data has been recorded by the NCES), the greatest number of Black women to earn a doctorate degree in computer science in one year was 10 (2008).

In 2012, the Computing Research Association (CRA) Taulbee Survey reported there were "merely 56 Black/African American computer science tenure-track faculty members at PhD-granting institutions, which includes 12 (or 0.6%), 21 (or 1.4%), and 23 (or 3.0%) Full, Associate, and Assistant Professors, respectively."[17]

Notable persons

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This is a dynamic list and may never be able to satisfy particular standards for completeness. You can help by adding missing items with reliable sources.

The following is a list of notable Black women in computer science, in alphabetical order by last name:

Representation in other media

See also


  1. ^ "Katherine Johnson - NasaCRgis". Archived from the original on May 3, 2016. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
  2. ^ Howard, Jenny. "Meet Katherine Johnson, the computer who helped send men to the moon". Massive Science. Retrieved June 20, 2019.
  3. ^ "ENIAC Programmers Project". ENIAC Programmers Project. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
  4. ^ "Focus on Women of Color |". Archived from the original on April 15, 2015. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
  5. ^ Zewe, Adam (June 24, 2020), Alumni profile: Deborah Washington Brown, Ph.D. '81, Harvard School of Engineering, retrieved February 15, 2023
  6. ^ Williams, Marsha Rhea (1982). "The design of the Computer Assisted Query Language (CAQL) System". OCLC 12957337. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ "Marsha Rhea Williams (1948- ) •". January 27, 2018. Retrieved March 7, 2022.
  8. ^ "The Forgotten Female Programmers Who Created Modern Tech". NPR. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
  9. ^ a b " – WebCASPAR|Home – US National Science Foundation (NSF)". Retrieved April 15, 2015.
  10. ^ "Black AI Workshop Becomes Latest Flashpoint in Techs Culture War". Bloomberg. October 20, 2017. Archived from the original on October 20, 2017. Retrieved August 22, 2021.
  11. ^ Walton, Abriana (March 3, 2021). "Meet Rediet Abebe, the Ethiopian Computer Scientist Using AI to Fight Socioeconomic Inequality". AfroTech. Retrieved August 22, 2021.
  12. ^ Hodari, Apriel; Ong, Maria; Ko, Lily T.; Kachchaf, Rachel R. (2014). "New enactments of mentoring and activism: U.S. women of color in computing education and careers". Proceedings of the Tenth Annual Conference on International Computing Education Research. Icer '14: 83–90. doi:10.1145/2632320.2632357. ISBN 9781450327558. S2CID 9241684. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
  13. ^ Ong, Maria (July 2011). "The status of women of color in computer science". Communications of the ACM. 54 (7): 32–34. doi:10.1145/1965724.1965737. S2CID 26535427.
  14. ^ Frenkel, Karen A. (1990). "Women and computing". Communications of the ACM. ACM. 33 (11): 34–46. doi:10.1145/92755.92756. S2CID 18384629. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
  15. ^ Dryburgh, Heather (2000). "Underrepresentation Of Girls And Women In Computer Science: Classification OF 1990s Research" (PDF). J. Educational Computing Research. 23 (2): 181–202. doi:10.2190/8ryv-9jwh-xqmb-qf41. S2CID 146393660. Archived from the original (PDF) on April 16, 2015. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
  16. ^ Taylor, Valerie. "Women of color in computing". Vol. 34, no. 2. ACM. ACM SIGCSE Bulletin. Retrieved April 15, 2015.
  17. ^ "2011 Taulbee Survey: continued increase in undergraduate CS degree production; slight rise in doctoral production" (PDF).

Further reading