Boaz Sender

Principal at Bocoup, Processing Foundation Board of Advisors, and Design Justice Volunteer.

Hartley Papers

August 8th 2019

Between October 2018 and August 2019, I worked closely with Yvonne Macpherson to review, interpret and scan the papers of the recently deceased computer scientist Alice Hartley. We could tell that Alice had made significant contributions to Lisp from the printed out Lisp interpreters with hand written debugging notes in the margins that Alice left behind. Alice did not, however, appear to have much of any credit on the historical record, or a Wikipedia entry for her work like her male contemporaries did.

Yvonne and I read through Alice's papers, interviewed her contemporaries, and after about a year of working on proving Alice's contributions, we have published a Wikipedia entry detailing Alice's career.

I was struck during this process by how many people's first reaction to this project was to attempt to reinforce the exclusion of Alice from the historical record. We spent a great deal more time figuring out how to meet a higher burden of proof for women, than we did interpreting the source materials that clearly demonstrated her contributions. We were shown patents without her name on them as proof that she did not contribute to the work. We were told that we did not have enough evidence from notable sources to warrant a Wikipedia entry. Relying on artifacts of a structurally discriminatory past will only propagate the exclusion of marginalized people's contributions.

We ended up using several Lisp reference manuals to build a case for Alice's contributions. We also managed to edit Alice into the Interlisp entry without contest. That entry was already citing the Interlisp Reference Manual in order to credit Alice's male collaborators, just not crediting her in the Wikipedia entry. This was particularly shocking since she is credited on page ii in the same sentence with her male counter-parts. You can compare the curent Interlisp entry with the one that did not credit her to see for yourself.

Alice is also now in the Lisp People category as a result of this work. Alice's papers have also now been published in the MIT archive, with a comprehensive finding guide attached: Alice K. Hartley personal archives on

Special thanks to Jan for helping organize the images, and Salome, Momin, Jasmine and others from Ethical Tech who came to the scanning party that made this possible! Also special thanks to Siarus1074 who met with me in Cambridge, MA and helped me learn how to make proper Wikipedia citations.


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