Filmmaker and professor LeAnn Erickson made “Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II” to honor the women of the war.
Throughout history, World War II veterans have been praised for their undeniably brave deeds and service to America. What people are unaware of though, is that there was a different group stationed in Philadelphia that also played a huge role in the victory of the war.
These are the female mathematicians, the unsung heroes of World War II. These women were given the responsibility of ensuring the accuracy of weapons used, as well as becoming the programmers and writers for the first electronic computer, ENIAC.
Filmmaker and film and media arts professor LeAnn Erickson, said she decided that 65 years after the war it was time for their story to be told so they can finally receive the credit they were denied. With her film, “Top Secret Rosies: The Female Computers of World War II,” she was able to give a voice to several of the women and men involved in the technological part of the war.
“I wanted to show a group that is sorely underrepresented and that is girls with computers,” Erickson said. “There is an unknown connection between women, computers and World War II.”
This was certainly not a topic she had always planned to expose. In fact, it was more of an accidental discovery, she said.
Erickson said she learned about these technology savvy women while researching for a previous film, “Neighbor Ladies,” which documented the integration of Mt. Airy into Philadelphia.
During an interview with two sisters for “Neighbor Ladies,” Erickson said she had overheard them speaking about their past involvement in World War II as mathematicians.
“I thought it was a really important history story and could be a go-to story for educational purposes,” she said.
The timing of filming was not ideal for Erickson though. In the middle of production, the economy crashed and she was unable to finish. But what Erickson lacked in funding, she made up for in determination and eventually was able to complete the film.
“It took a lot of private donations, some as small as $25, but there were no problems with participation and with a big support system we were finished production seven years later,” Erickson said.
In the filmmaking business for more than 20 years, Erickson has a lot of experience under her belt. The documentarian has covered films ranging from animated pieces to memoirs. An obvious and reoccurring component of these films has been the involvement of her family.
Erickson had worked with her son, sophomore film and media arts major Jake Rasmussen, to create the animated film, “Fun Days with Jake.” Also, the memoir “Folk Songs” centers on stories of her grandparents who were Ukrainian immigrants in the early 1900s. Now, “Top Secret Rosies” increases the variety of her work even more. Usually an independent filmmaker, Erickson enlisted the help of a crew in order to complete this project.
“This is the biggest, most ambitious film I have ever done and also the first one to be in HD,” Erickson said. “I envisioned it as a public television documentary.”
For the past year, “Top Secret Rosies” has been screened nationwide from California to New Orleans and is now available on Netflix.
“Since it is Women’s History Month, this film has become even more relevant and the film’s distributer, PBS, has been great at giving it publicity,” Erickson said.
“I often felt women would feel differently about technology if they knew the history,” she added. “I want this film to inspire women to pursue careers in the technology department.”
Siobhan Redding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.