After a lifetime of leadership and innovation, Evelyn Berezin passed away on December 8th, 2018 at ninety-three years old.
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In modern times, the participation gap between men and women in STEM fields is both troubling and distinct, with five times as many men as women employed in these fields. Though the rate of female participation in the sciences is steadily increasing, there remains—as there has always been—a substantial distinction between a situation improving and a situation improving quickly. Experts predict it may take as many as 280 years until men and women hold similar numbers of certain tech industry jobs. Outside of tech, physics remains one of the most male-dominated scientific fields—and yet, in the 1940s, Evelyn Berezin was at the forefront of both.
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After graduating high school at fifteen, Berezin took night classes at Hunter College before taking classes at all-male Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, thanks to a WWII provision allowing women to attend male universities in order to learn ‘specialized skills’ (including calculus). In 1946, she earned her degree in physics from New York University, a year in which science was even more significantly male-dominated than just about everything else. Though she chose her job at the Electronic Computer Corporation over her doctoral studies, she has been awarded honorary PhDsfrom Adelphi University and Eastern Michigan University. In a Time interview, she described her role at ECC: “they said to me, ‘design a computer.’ I had never seen one before. Hardly anyone else had. So I just had to figure out how to do it. It was a lot of fun — when I wasn’t terrified.”
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Her 1971 invention of the word processor remains one of the most significant tech achievements of all time, relegating the typewriter to a spot in a more obsolete past. Previously, a document may need to be completely re-typed for any number of reasons—a smear of ink, one misplaced comma. Cut and paste was an impossible dream. It was a desperate inconvenience for the secretaries of the time, and it was simply inefficient. Berezin’s groundbreaking invention changed the office environment and the literary landscape, with authors also gradually switching from the perilous typewriter. In 1991, writer Zachary Leader argued that the word processor offered an “endlessly malleable sentence,” a sentiment most modern writers share. Berezin also improved the business world with her development of an airline reservation system with a one-second response time-a year before the more famous Sabre system would go on to eclipse her achievement. She went on to become the CEO of Redactron, her own tech company.
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“Without Ms. Berezin there would be no Bill Gates, no Steve Jobs, no internet, no word processors, no spreadsheets; nothing that remotely connects business with the 21st century,” British writer Gwyn Headley asserted in a blog post. “Why is this woman not famous?”
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