Women Can Compute: Kenneth Keller, BVM Paved the Way for Women in Computer Science
by Archivist Jennifer Head
BVM Center News, September 2013
Sister Mary Kenneth Keller, BVM was one of the first women to receive a PhD in computer science, which she received from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1964. She was the first person—man or woman—to be awarded that degree from that school.
After receiving her PhD, Kenneth was appointed chair of the newly-created computer science department at Clarke University, a position she would hold for almost 20 years. Under her leadership, the program grew to include a master’s degree in computer applications in education.
She was among the first to recognize the future importance of computers, noting in 1964 that students in such fields as education, psychology, and the sciences were already using computers in their work. She also foresaw the importance of computers in libraries.
Kenneth was a strong advocate for the involvement of women in the field of computer science, especially given the growing demand for computer experts and information specialists. There were (and are) jobs to be had and she saw no reason that women could not fulfill these needs.
After her death in 1985, the computer center at Clarke was renamed the Keller Computer Center and Information Services.
Mary Kenneth Keller, BVM: An Inspiration for Women in Computer Science