Jean Sammet, Co-Designer of a Pioneering Computer Language, Dies at 89

Obituary from NY Times.

Jean Sammet, Co-Designer of a Pioneering Computer Language, Dies at 89
Jean E. Sammet, an early software engineer and a designer of COBOL, a programming language that brought computing into the business mainstream, died on May 20 in Maryland. She was 89.


Grace Hopper, a computer pioneer at Sperry Rand in the late 1950s, led the effort to bring computer makers together to collaborate on the new programming language. Ms. Hopper is often called the “mother of COBOL,” but she was not one of the six people, including Ms. Sammet, who designed the language — a fact Ms. Sammet rarely failed to point out. (Ms. Sammet worked for Sylvania Electric at the time.)

“I yield to no one in my admiration for Grace,” she said. “But she was not the mother, creator or developer of COBOL.”

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More than COBOL

When I heard Jean Sammet had died, it brought not COBOL to my mind, but FORMAC. I prefer the SD Times headline to the NY Times one: FORMAC developer Jean Sammet passes away.

FORMAC was groundbreaking in a number of ways that took decades to really appreciate. To pick one aspect, in FORMAC one would use the expressive dynamic system to manipulate symbolic expressions and do algebraic manipulations and such, but drop down to Fortran when low-level fast operations on matrices were required. This closely echos current practice.