Jean Sammet, 1928–2017

Co-developer of the computer programming language COBOL

Originally unimpressed when she first encountered a computer in 1949, a decade later, Jean Sammet was a co-developer of the computer programming language COBOL. Designed for business use, COBOL is still in use today. 

Sammet also directed the development of the compiler FORMAC. She “brought computing into the business mainstream” wrote The New York Times in its obituary of the computer pioneer. 

Born in New York City, Sammet couldn’t attend the Bronx High School of Science because the school didn’t accept girls at the time. She chose Mount Holyoke because of its strong mathematics program.

She was working at the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company when she agreed to participate in an in-house training program to learn about punched-card accounting machines. 

Sammet authored two books and was a recipient of the NCWIT Pioneer Award, the IEEE Computer Society Pioneer Award, and was a fellow of the Computer History Museum. Sammet was named the first female president of the Association for Computing Machinery, a leading professional association, in 1974. 

A long-time friend to Mount Holyoke, Sammet endowed a professorship, the Jean E. Sammet Professor of Computer Science, now held by Valerie Barr, the chair of the Department of Computer Science.

Class year: 1948
Major: mathematics; Honorary Doctorate in Science, 1978

Recent Campus News

When Jean Sammet was given her first computer programming assignment, the field was so new that she had no books or papers to refer to. “I only had the instructions for the computers and what little brain power I had gotten from Mount Holyoke,” she said.

Computer pioneer Jean Sammet ’48 has died

Jean Sammet ’48, one of the most important early pioneers in computer science, was a long-time supporter and advocate for Mount Holyoke.