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What Contributions Have Catholic Religious Sisters Made to Science?

Sister Mary Kenneth Keller was undoubtedly ahead of her time. After taking her vows with the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Iowa in 1940, she began to follow another call, one that would lead her to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 1965, she earned a PhD in computer science, becoming the first American woman to earn such a degree. Keller later went on to help develop the BASIC programming language, which revolutionized the world of computing.

Religious sister and computer pioneer:

  • BASIC programming opened the door to writing code more easily, allowing everyone the opportunity to create custom software. Before BASIC, only mathematicians and scientists knew how.

  • Versions of BASIC became widespread on the early personal computers of the 1970s and 1980s, bringing computer proficiency to the masses.

  • Sister Mary Kenneth Keller went on to establish the computer science department at Clarke College, then a Catholic women's college. She chaired the department for 20 years, and was an advocate for women in the field of computer science.

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