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Evelyn Berezin, Computer Scientist Who Brought Word Processors To The Office, Dies At 93

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We're going to take a moment now to remember a pioneer of computer engineering. Evelyn Berezin died over the weekend at age 93.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

She was the daughter of a seamstress and furrier, who popularized word processing and defied the gender expectations of her industry. Dag Spicer is senior curator at the Computer History Museum.

DAG SPICER: She designed computers in the 1950s at the very dawn of the computer age. That was a job that, perhaps, 20 people had at the time.

CORNISH: Among her designs - the first computerized airline reservation system, automated banking transactions and a system that computed artillery distances for the Pentagon.

SHAPIRO: A turning point came in 1960. The New York Stock Exchange asked her to design a new stock ticker and then abruptly pulled the offer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EVELYN BEREZIN: And I said, why? I was probably one of the two people in the world who could design a machine for that.

SHAPIRO: That's Berezin in a 2014 oral history recording for the Computer History Museum.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BEREZIN: And he said, you'd have to be on the stock market floor from time to time, and the language of the floor was not for a woman's ears. It was devastating.

SHAPIRO: So she founded her own company, Redactron, and developed her word processor.

CORNISH: It was a machine attached to a typewriter that could remember every keystroke, allowing the user to correct mistakes and print clean copy. It was revolutionary for secretaries who spent their days typing. Matt Kirschenbaum wrote a history of word processing and says Berezin saw her work as part of a large social agenda.

MATT KIRSCHENBAUM: It was explicitly framed in terms of the technology's potential to liberate women and allow them to move into other sectors of the workforce.

SHAPIRO: But that liberation was limited. Easier typing didn't mean that male bosses were about to do it for themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BEREZIN: It was an ego thing, and one of the hardest things to break was that ego situation between a guy and his secretary.

SHAPIRO: As Berezin found out, office culture would be harder to change than office technology.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAMES HUNTER SONG, "NO SMOKE WITHOUT FIRE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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