Winifred “Tim” Asprey

When the young men joined, they became fun too. A lot of the faculty didn’t like them, but I liked them. And I loved the fact that the women stood up so brilliantly against them. The men, as I told you, had some trouble because they hadn’t been studying, but it was terribly nice to see. It worries me now that the men tend to take over the math and science.

—Professor Winifred Asprey, Vassar

Professor Asprey created the first Computer Science lab at Vassar and helped Vassar become the 2nd college in the US to acquire an IBM System/360.

SRH: Was Grace Hopper a teacher when you were here?

WA: Yes she was, but I didn’t know her my first two years at all. The courses I took were standard. The first course I took at Vassar was Trigonometry, the next one was Analytic Geometry, and then your second year you started calculus. You can imagine the attention we had because the faculty was all superb mathematicians. Grace Hopper was the young one, and she had just gotten her PhD from Yale. She taught Mechanical Drawing and things she loved. The department was very formal, the way you addressed a person. Classes were small, you knew each other well, but we were very formal. It was a different atmosphere. Miss Wells, who headed the department, called me Winifred three times through my college career, and I can tell you every time she did it. Very much fun, all the things we did. I liked almost all my classes except for English. I’m sure I was pig-headed about it; I never took another English course.

SRH: Did you think of bringing the computer here on your own?

WA: It was just one of those things that the minute Grace and I got together… In the phone call with Grace that night, I said, “What do you think about Vassar getting into computers,” and I never forgot her answer, she said, “I’ve been waiting for you to wake up.” It’s the way she talked to you too. She spared no thoughts of your feelings; she was just so dynamic about everything she was doing.

SRH: Would you say you started the first liberal arts computer science program?

WA: Well, places like Dartmouth with graduate schools had it. I certainly did among colleges like Vassar, and the type of the computer we got—we got the best on the market. This was all trustee doing.

SRH: Did coeducation change anything about your program?

WA: When the young men joined, they became fun too. A lot of the faculty didn’t like them, but I liked them. And I loved the fact that the women stood up so brilliantly against them. The men, as I told you, had some trouble because they hadn’t been studying, but it was terribly nice to see. It worries me now that the men tend to take over the math and science. Usually the women mathematicians are very good, and they get their Phi Beta Kappas and honors. Vassar students have the great advantage of getting the department to know them so well and getting them to help them. I have a great admiration for the math department and the computer science department. The computer science department has grown in the last year.

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