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Scene at MIT: Ruth Anderson, pioneer of mathematics and computing

A brief history of one member of MIT’s famed Radiation Laboratory.
Sepia-colored photo of Ruth Anderson as a young woman, sitting on Killian Court
Caption:
Ruth Anderson sits in front of Building 10 on V-J Day in 1945. Her work contributed to the development of radar, which helped win World War II.
Credits:
Photo courtesy of Karen Anderson.

Ruth Krock Anderson is a mathematician and computing pioneer who has seen a lot in her 102 years. Born in Boston in 1918, she was interested in math from an early age and earned a mathematics degree at Boston Teachers College, now part of the University of Massachusetts. Soon thereafter, Anderson was asked to join the MIT Radiation Laboratory, which made key contributions to the development of microwave radar technology during the second world war. “There are quite a few books written about women programmers in World War II to help in the war, and I was one of them,” Anderson stated in a 2019 interview.

At MIT, Anderson worked on computer programs that assisted scientists and engineers working on new radar technology. Her colleagues at the Rad Lab included Betty Campbell and Barbara Levine, both of whom would continue on in computer science after the war, as well as Harold Levine, who became a math professor at Stanford University. This photo of Anderson shows her in front of Building 10 on V-J Day in 1945.

Anderson eventually moved to California to work for the U.S. Navy on drone-tracking technology. But she would spend most of her career at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington. There, she worked for Ethel Marden, a computing pioneer who also, according to Anderson’s daughter Karen, was “remembered for lobbying for family-friendly work schedules for employees — specifically, my mom, who job-shared after I was born.”

Today, Anderson lives in a retirement community in Naples, Florida. She is one of very few people who’ve lived through both the 1918 influenza pandemic and our current pandemic; on Jan. 19, at age 102, she received her second dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine.

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