Women in History: Dr. Erna Hoover

In continuance with our ode to women who have played a role in shaping technology as we know it, PGi would like to take a moment to honor Dr. Erna Schneider Hoover. Dr. Hoover, born in 1926, is an American mathematician who is noted for making key contributions to the system architecture of the computerized telephone switching method, developed by Bell Labs.  Let’s take an in-depth look at the accomplishments Dr. Hoover has achieved in her long career in technology:

Collegiate Accomplishments

Erna Hoover attended Wellesley College where she studied classical and medieval philosophy and history. After graduating with honors in 1948, she was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, an honor society of liberal arts and sciences, and was honored as a Durant Scholar. She continued her collegiate career at Yale University where she received a doctorate in philosophy and the foundation of mathematics. At the time, Hoover was one of the five percent of women earning Ph.D.’s in mathematics in the 1950s.  Starting in 1951, she began a short career as a professor of philosophy and logic at Swarthmore College.

Breaking Ground in the Telecommunications Field

Dr. Hoover left her position as a professor in 1954 to marry her husband, who has taken a job at Bell Telephone Laboratories in New Jersey (now known as Nokia Bell Labs). Upon marrying her husband, Hoover found it difficult to secure a tenure track position, so she decided to take a job at Bell Labs in the interim.

She was one of Bell Labs’ first female employees and was the first to be appointed as technical supervisor. She directed Bell’s surveillance and control programs for the radar used in the Safeguard Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense System, designed to protect the U.S. Air Force’s Minuteman ICBM silos from attack.

In 1965, Bell Labs announced its largest project in history, named the Number One Electronic Switching System. The system aimed to revolutionize modern telephone communication. In 1971, Dr. Hoover became one of the first women in the U.S. to receive a software patent when she was issued patent No.  3,623,007 for the computerized telephone switching system. Hoover came up with the idea to use computing to regulate incoming calls for Bell Labs while she was in the hospital recovering from giving birth to one of her three daughters.

In 1978, she was appointed the head of the technical department where she spent the next decade working on software applications with a particular focus on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and IMS-IBM/Unix based system communications. In 1987, after three decades of dedication to improving telecommunications as we know it, Dr. Hoover retired.


After retiring from her long tenure at Bell Labs, Dr. Hoover focused her efforts on publicizing the importance of K-12 education, focusing on the lack of female representation in STEM. She created one of the first conferences for the Expanding Your Horizons program in association with the American Association of the University of Women and Girl Scouts of America. She continued with a fervent focus on education as she joined the New Jersey Board of Higher Education in 1983 and has served as a chairperson of the Trenton State College Board of Trustees since 1980.

Awards and Accolades

Not only did Dr. Hoover’s efforts award her one of the first women to be awarded a software patent, but she has also been inducted into the National Inventor’s Hall of Fame in 2008. She also was awarded the Wellesley College Alumni Achievement Award in 1990 to recognize the accomplishments of her career.

Dr. Erna Schneider Hoover is a living legend and pioneer in STEM. She dedicated her entire career to improving the landscape for women in technical and scientific fields, while also improving our daily lives with her invention that some claim has revolutionized modern telecommunications. Check back next week for our next feature in our Women in History series!

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