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Ethel C. Marden [left] and Robert D. Elbourn [right] operating SEAC

Richard Wilkinson, Writer/Editor, Public Affairs Office

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Marden at the helm of the SEAC.

“Ethel Marden taught many of us how to program the computer, but she also taught us many of the finer points of life. She instructed us in scuba diving; she herself was an avid scuba diver and held the women’s world record in 1954 for a depth of 165 feet. She showed us how much fun riding in her MG could be, how to open an English muffin so that all the crevices would be there to catch the butter, which wines were good and which to serve with various foods, how to properly serve brandy to get the full aroma — indeed, all the little things that create the good life. The Mardens unveiled their Frank Lloyd Wright house design in 1951, and there were daily reports of the compromises or non-compromises between architect and client. It was 1956 before we had a picnic on the cornerstone.”

In 1983, Marden was interviewed about her involvement with the SEAC. She spoke of the excitement and dedication of the NIST researchers who worked on the groundbreaking project:

“Every day when we went into the office, I think all of us went in with joy in our hearts because we loved our work. We were doing something nobody had done before and we were all excited about our work … Many, many nights, engineers would be there all night. There was no question of payment for any overtime. The group never wanted or asked for overtime pay. [The] motivation is hard to understand unless you have worked in a pioneering environment where you feel you’re developing something new and exciting and can hardly bear to leave it to go home.”

In another oral-history interview after she retired, Marden said, ‘I admire anyone who has done something for the first time … anyone who has been a pioneer in something.”

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NIST promotes U.S. innovation by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.

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