Sammet, an early software engineer and a designer of COBOL, a programming language that brought computing into the business mainstream, died on May 20 in Maryland. She was She lived in a retirement community in Silver Spring and died at a nearby hospital after a brief illness, said Elizabeth Conlisk, a spokeswoman for Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, where Ms. Sammet had earned her undergraduate degree and later endowed a professorship in computer science.

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Early life[ edit ] Jean E. Sammet was born on March 23, in New York City. Jean and her sister Helen were born to Harry and Ruth Sammet who were both lawyers.

Jean and Helen attended public elementary schools in Manhattan. Sammet had a strong interest in mathematics but was unable to attend the Bronx High School of Science because it did not accept girls. Sammet majored in mathematics and took education courses, which allowed her to be certified to teach high school mathematics in New York. She minored in political science. After graduating from Mount Holyoke, Sammet pursued graduate studies at the University of Illinois , where she received her MA in While taking courses toward a Ph.

Sammet was forced to search for positions in New Jersey because New York City was not hiring new teachers. The authorities in New Jersey determined that Sammet was missing two courses from her studies: a course in education and one in the history of New Jersey.

Sammet fought this determination, stating that her knowledge of New Jersey history did not strengthen her ability to teach mathematics in high school. This forced Sammet to seek other types of employment. She agreed to participate in an in-house training program to learn about punched card accounting machines. Sammet took to the electronic accounting machines, but was unable to work with the machines after her training was complete.

She left her position at the insurance office and enrolled at Columbia University to pursue a Ph. Sammet worked as a teaching assistant at Barnard College during the school year before she decided that the academic life was not for her. She spent time working on mathematical analysis problems for clients and ran an analog computer. In early January , Sammet began her life as a programmer. Her first task was to write the basic loader for the SPEEDAC, which was a line program that took three days to toggle into the computer by hand in binary.

The group produced other system software and focused on scientific and engineering computations. Despite the fact that Adelphi did not have a computer and few textbooks on programming existed at the time, Sammet was able to instruct two courses for two years. Sammet faced resistance from the interest group on numerical analysis in ACM.

Sammet states that she fought her way to give a paper at SIGNUM because the group was not interested in non-numerical analysis of that kind of an activity. She served one year of a two-year term before resigning because she was elected vice president of ACM in Sammet has stated that these conferences were organized based on the recognition of how fundamental programming languages were to different aspects within computing.

At the time of her vice presidency, ACM was almost bankrupt. Sammet convinced Ralston to hold a member-office forum prior to their annual conference. Sammet encouraged this based on her recognition that ACM had no realistic way of communicating with the membership.


Jean Sammet

Professional Experience: teaching assistant, mathematics, University of Illinois, ; dividend technician, Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. Miss Sammet organized and supervised the first scientific programming group for Sperry Gyroscope Company, FORMAC was the first widely used general language and system for manipulating nonnumeric algebraic expressions. She also started and directed work on other language projects.


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One would think there might not have been such an assembly of brilliant thinkers since the Platonic Academy. The previous ones were held in , and ; that is, not very often. The August edition of Dr. When will it be held? Maybe 5 years from now, maybe The mastermind and instigator behind the HOPL conferences, and chair of the previous three editions, one of the creators of the COBOL programming language, author of the first symbolic algebra system for computers FORMAC , and author of the first book about the history of programming languages, Jean Sammet, passed away in


Jean E. Sammet



Jean Sammet, Co-Designer of a Pioneering Computer Language, Dies at 89


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