Case Number 20551: Small Claims Court


PBS // 2010 // 56 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // January 22nd, 2011

The Charge

"In 1942, a computer wasn't a machine. It was a person."

The Case

As the PBS documentary Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II points out, computer was once the job description of the people who did the calculations that are now done by machine. Top Secret Rosies profiles the women who held that job during World War II, mostly at the Philadelphia Computing Section. Their calculations on things like ballistics tables helped win the war.

Top Secret Rosies does manage to work in the standard war footage, including extensive film from the Battle of Anzio as the math team's role in the battle is discussed. You'll see some stuff you wouldn't ordinarily see in a war documentary, though. Stuff like a differential analyzer that once was state-of-the-art technology and the ENIAC digital calculator.

You'll also hear what it was like to do math for war. Actually, the pay was good: $1,800 a year, as one woman says. Producer/director/editor Leann Erickson was diligent with interviews, so you'll hear about the pay, worklife, and social life the women shared, along with a general sense of how the work changed their lives.

The picture is typical for a period documentary, with footage quality varying depending on age and filming conditions. Sound is good throughout.

My one quibble is that the DVD probably could have included extra footage from the interviews; the documentary covers a lot of material well in just shy of an hour, but some viewers will want to see more. All you get in the way of bonus features is an unnecessary promotional trailer.

In the end, you'll be glad this story was told, since the women who computed during World War II must be around 90 by now. You should also be thinking about the work they did that has been taken over by technology. The DVD is probably most applicable to educational use, and it would be a great addition to many a history course (or even math course).

The Verdict

Not guilty. I'm glad these Rosies are no longer a secret.

Review content copyright © 2011 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 92

Perp Profile
Studio: PBS
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* English (SDH)

Running Time: 56 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* Trailer

* IMDb