Jean E. Sammet 1928–2017
In 1977, she organized and chaired
the first History of Computing Com-
mittee for the American Federation
of Information Processing Societies,
which encouraged the creation of ar-
chives for industry professionals’ ma-
terials. Said Sammet, “From child-
hood on, I hated to throw papers
away. As I became an adult, this char-
acteristic merged with my interest in
computing history. As a result, I cre-
ated important files and documents
of my own, and became concerned
with having other people publish ma-
terial on their important work so the
facts (rather that the myths) would be
ACM celebrated Sammet in 1985
with its Distinguished Service Award
“for advancing the art and science of
computer programming languages and
recording its history. “
Sammet retired from IBM in 1988.
She served on the board of directors of
the Computer History Museum 1983-
1993, and on the board and executive
committee of the Software Patent Insti-
In 1989, the Association for Women
in Computing presented Sammet its
Ada Lovelace Award.
In 1994, Sammet was named a Fellow
of the ACM.
In 1997, she shared SIGPLAN’s Distinguished Service Award with J.A.N. Lee.
In 2001, Sammet was named a Fellow
of the Computer History Museum.
In 2009, IEEE gave her its Computer
Pioneer Award “for pioneering work
and lifetime achievement as one of
the first developers and researchers in
In 2013, the National Center for
Women & Information Technology (NC-
WIT) bestowed its Pioneer Award on her.
Sammet maintained an enormous
collection of materials on programming languages, which were to be
housed at the Charles Babbage Institute Center for the History of Information Technology at the University
of Minnesota upon her demise.
—Lawrence M. Fisher
JEAN E. SAMMET, an Ameri- can computer scientist who served as the first female pres- ident of ACM, passed away on May 21 at the age of 89.
Sammet was born March 23, 1928
in New York City. She received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from
Mount Holyoke College in 1948, and a
master’s degree in that discipline from
the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1949.
In 1951, Sammet joined Metropolitan Life Insurance, but left to pursue a
doctorate in mathematics at Columbia
University. She worked as a teaching
assistant at Barnard College for a year,
before deciding to leave academia. (She
did not complete doctoral studies, but
received an honorary doctor of science
degree from Mount Holyoke in 1978).
From 1953 to 1958, Sammet was a
mathematician for Sperry Gyroscope
(now part of Unisys) in New York, working on mathematical analysis problems.
In 1955, the company asked her to
program the Sperry Electronic Digital
Automatic Computer. Sammet became
leader of an “open shop” of programmers acting as consultants to engineers
and working with scientists who assisted them in writing and testing routines.
Sylvania Electric Products hired
Sammet in 1958 to oversee software
development for the U.S. Army’s Mobile Digital Computer. She served as
staff consultant for programming research, and was a member of the original COBOL group.
In 1961, she moved to IBM, where
she researched the use of restricted
English as a programming language
and the use of natural language for
During the mid-1960s, Sammet developed FORMAC (Formula Manipulation Compiler), the first widely used
computer language for symbolic manipulation of mathematical formulas.
Understanding the importance of ex-
changing information with others
working with languages and soft-
ware, Sammet contacted ACM’s
then-president George Forsythe, who
named her chairperson of the Spe-
cial Interest Committee on Symbolic
and Algebraic Manipulation (SIC-
SAM, later the Special Interest Group
on Symbolic and Algebraic Manipu-
In 1966, Sammet was elected ACM’s
Northeast Regional Representative.
She was also a member of the ACM
Council, and was named ACM lecturer
in 1967, 1968, and 1972. In 1968, Sammet was named chairperson of the
ACM Committee on SIGs and SICs.
In 1971, she was elected chair of
the ACM Special Interest Group on
Programming Languages (SIGPLAN),
a post she resigned when elected vice
president of ACM in 1972.
While vice president, ACM’S then-president Anthony Ralston asked her
to chair the first ACM Long Range
Planning Committee (LRPC). In 1974,
Sammet was elected the first female
president of ACM, and continued to
work with the LRPC. A final report
from the committee recommended
principles to be used as guidelines for
In 1975, Sammet was named an
honorary member of Upsilon Pi Epsilon, the International Honor Society
for the Computing and Information Sciences.
In Memoriam | DOI: 10.1145/3099559 Lawrence M. Fisher