Mary Lee Woods Berners-Lee, early British computer programmer

Mary Lee and Conway Berners-Lee in 1954. Source: British Library

Mary Lee Woods Berners-Lee (1924-2017) was a British mathematician and computer scientist. After graduating at the University of Birmingham, she got a fellowship at the Mount Stromlo Observatory in Canberra. Back from Australia, in 1951 she started working for Ferranti as a programmer, in the Ferranti Mark I and I* team at the University of Manchester.

Mary Lee Woods was a champion of women rights almost twenty years before the 1970’s Equal Pay Act. When the female programmers at Ferranti discovered that their male colleagues were being paid more than they were for the same work, she led a successful campaign at Ferranti for equal pay for programmers.

In 1953 she met Conway Berners-Lee, a colleague working at Ferranti. They eventually married. Tim Berners-Lee, 2016 ACM Turing Prize winner and inventor of the World Wide Web, is their eldest son.

Mary Lee Woods Berners-Lee died on November 29th 2017, aged 93.

Read the obituaries by The Times  and by The Guardian.

Ferranti Mark I (1950). Source: Computer History Museum

Janet Abbate interviewed Mary Lee Woods in 2001 for the IEEE history center. The transcript of the oral history is available here.

Listen to some excerpts of the interview with Mary Lee Berners-Lee in Voices of Science, a series of oral history interviews with prominent British scientists and engineers, produced by the British Library. The full interview was recorded in several sessions in 2010 and 2011.