Dorothy Toplitzky Blum
Dorothy Toplitzky Blum, known to all as Dottie, was a computer pioneer, cryptanalyst and one of the most significant computer scientists in the country during the early days of computing. She was also one of the most outstanding women in government at the time. As an Armed Forces Security Agency and National Security Agency employee, Dottie worked on the Army’s Bombe used for breaking codes during WWII and helped develop Harvest/Stretch – IBM’s most sophisticated system of that era. She worked on early versions of FORTRAN, a scientific computer language especially helpful to NSA.
She was one of the first to apply computer processing to solve difficult cryptologic problems. For 30 years, she was an extraordinary manager and master planner for computing and telecommunications at NSA. Just as important to her legacy was her support and mentorship for so many women computer scientists, now recognized as “Queens of Code.” Dottie served as a board member of Women in NSA (WIN), the agency’s women’s empowerment group. She was a senior advisor and provided career guidance that helped create career opportunities for many women.
Dottie was born in New York City in 1924. At the age of 16, she enrolled as a Chemistry major in Brooklyn College. However, it was a course in Cryptanalysis that changed her life and led her to accept a job with the war effort in Washington, D.C. As a member of the Signal Intelligence Service, she worked on cryptanalysis of enemy messages, codes and ciphers for the Army and control of the Army cipher and other computer machines.
She earned the respect of her mostly male co-workers and often represented the group at training and meetings like the Association for Computing Machinery, which was established in 1947. By the 1950s, Dottie was actively involved with the new first-generation computers and technology. Both Dottie and Grace Hopper are listed on the 1948 roster of the fledgling group.
In the 1960s, she worked as a computer scientist and manager designing critical computer systems and automate processes – both business and operational. In 1972, she was appointed Chief of the NSA Computer Operations Organization (C7), the only woman manager in the organization at the time and one of the highest-ranking women in the entire agency.
In the mid-1970s, she was appointed chief of the planning organization, taking on the massive job of evaluation, forecasting, and supporting computer and telecommunications requirements for NSA organizations world-wide. Her insights and knowledge of technology, end-users and the mission, developed the roadmap for NSA’s IT success for the next decade.
To honor her memory, WIN created the Dorothy T. Blum Award, presented annually for more than 30 years to recognize NSA employees for excellence in employee personal and professional development.
In 2004, Dottie Blum was inducted into NSA’s Hall of Honor. In 2017, the agency named the Dorothy Blum High Performance Computing Center in her honor.
Dottie was married to Joe Blum and had one son, David Blum.
NSA is one of the most exciting places to work if you’re in the Computer Science area. This is because of the wealth of applications that we have and the different fields to which computers have been applied. If you look around, there is not any discipline at NSA, including the areas of Management and Administration, to which computers have not been applied in some form. – Dorothy Toplitzky Blum
Biography courtesy of the Maryland Commission for Women, 2022.