Sister Mary Kenneth Keller is widely credited as the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in Computer Science in the United States.
Mary Kenneth Keller joined the Sisters of Charity in 1932. In 1940 she took her vows and became a nun in the Roman Catholic Church. Afterwards, she attended DePaul University in Chicago, IL, where she received first her B.S. degree in Mathematics and later a M.S. degree in Mathematics and Physics. In 1965 she received her Ph.D. in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Sister Mary Kenneth Keller was also the first woman to be allowed in to the computer center at Dartmouth. It was there that she was on a team that helped to develop BASIC (Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code). BASIC allowed people who did not have a background in computers (small business owners, for example) to be able to program their own software. This made computers much more accessible to the general population.
Sister Mary Kenneth Keller founded and chaired the Computer Science program at Clarke College (now Clarke University) in Iowa for 20 years. She passed away in 1985 at the age on 71.
This entry is part of MPL's National Women's History Month.