Agnes Scott College

Gertrude Blanch

Gertrude Blanch

February 2, 1897 - January 1, 1996


Contributed by Dr. David Greer, George Washington University

Gertrude Blanch (1897-1996) was a pioneer in numerical analysis and computation. She was born in Poland, emigrated to the United States in 1907 and graduated from Brooklyn's eastern District High School in 1914. For the next fourteen years, she worked as a clerk in New York so that she might be able to save money for college. She enrolled in NYU night school in 1928 and graduated four years later, Summa Cum Laude, a member of Phi Beta Kappa. She received her Ph.D. from Cornell in Analytic Geometry in 1936 ["Properties of the Veneroni Transformation in S4" (Abstract)]. The Depression was a difficult time to start a mathematical career and she was able to find only a substitute teaching job at Hunter College. In 1938, she became technical director of the Mathematical Tables Project in New York City, a WPA human computer group. At the Math Tables Project, Blanch oversaw 450 human computers who were calculating tables of functions. In all, the group produced 28 volumes of tables, many of which contain no known errors.

During World War II, Blanch and the Math Tables Project worked for the Applied Mathematics Panel of the Office for Scientific Research and Development. She oversaw calculations for the Army, Navy, Manhattan Project and dozens of defense industries. After the war, she joined first the Institute for Numerical Analysis at UCLA and later the Aerospace Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. She published over thirty papers on functional approximation, numerical analysis and Mathieu functions. She was elected a Fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1962 and was given the Federal Woman's Award from President Lyndon Johnson in 1964.

References

  1. Grier, David Alan. "Gertrude Blanch of the Mathematical Tables Project," IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, Vol. 19, no. 4 (1997), 18-27. [Abstract from the IEEE Computing Society Digital Library]
  2. Grier, David Alan. When Computers Were Human, Princeton University Press, 2005.
  3. Author Profile at zbMath
  4. MathSciNet [subscription required]
  5. Mathematics Genealogy Project