We would like to share this inspiring story about the grandmother of one of our owners. “Nana” spent many years as a coder for the federal government, paving the way for women today. Here is her story as told by Janet Proctor:
My grandmother, whom I refer to as Nana, came for a visit to DC from Bristol, Virginia, after her high school commencement. She graduated high school on her 16th birthday and, as a promise to her mother, she began night classes at Cortez Peters Business School taking shorthand and typing for one year while working her first job. She had plans to attend West Virginia State University. Her sister went down to Bristol to attend my Nana’s high school graduation, and my grandmother decided to ride to DC with her for what was supposed to be a couple of weeks.
During her visit to DC, while her sister was looking for a job, Nana just filled out an application whenever her sister did. She submitted an application to the Department of Navy and the next week they called and offered her a job.
She worked in Arlington at the Annex. She was a heavy-duty file clerk which entailed the use of a step-ladder, a stool, and many filing cabinets. She started making a lot of money and decided to stay in DC and work. I was surprised to later learn that she turned down the opportunity to go to college in 1948. I didn’t even know that was possible as the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling did not come until May of 1954.
The next few years she worked for the Department of Navy, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Census. During this time she discovered her love of numbers that would lay the groundwork for future endeavors. While at the Census, she was sent to the Honeywell Computer School to learn how to work with microfilm and thus became her entry into technology. While mostly working with microfilm, she also performed a little coding in COBOL, one of the first computer languages. My Nana’s final stop was at the Department of Commerce where she worked as a programmer. She coded in Fortran, Bestop, and COBOL. She enjoyed the flexibility of her job the most. Sometimes in the evening, she would have to go down to M Street (where the massive computer was) to drop off her program so that it could run overnight and pick up the results the next morning.
The Department of Commerce sent her to Prince George’s Community College three days a week to advance her computer programming knowledge. These classes, compounded with the night school typing and shorthand classes taken before leaving home, helped propel her career. She retired from Commerce after nearly 39 years of service with the federal government. I say nearly because she does not give herself credit for her time off during pregnancy and childbirth. She gave birth and raised four children throughout her career. She is now retired and enjoying her grandchildren.