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George and Alexandra “Sandra” Forsythe

George Forsythe was the founder of the Department of Computer Science at Stanford, one of the first independent departments of computer science in the country. Sandra, his wife, overcame gender-related academic adversity to become a force in computer science in her own right. She was co-author of the first-ever computer science textbook, Computer Science: A First Course, in 1969.

“[George Forsythe’s] foresight, combined with his untiring efforts to spread the gospel of computing, have had a significant and lasting impact; one might almost regard him as the Martin Luther of the Computer Reformation!” wrote fellow Engineering Hero Don Knuth of his mentor in a tribute published shortly after Forsythe’s death in 1972.

In a recent interview, Knuth said Sandra Forsythe was also an important figure. “Sandra co-wrote the first elementary textbook on computer science. Up to that time, there had been lots of books about computer programming, but this was the first about computer science. It was translated into many languages and went through many editions and was extremely important in the development of the field,” he said. She died in 1980.