Alan Turing


British mathematician Alan Turing is credited with both laying the foundations for modern computer science with his hypothetical Turing machines and with cracking the German Enigma code during World War II (which was not, as the phrase implies, a one-time event, but an ongoing war on several fronts). His Turing test to determine the intelligence of a machine was a foundation for the philosophy of artificial intelligence. Due to a combination of gag orders surrounding intelligence collection and Turing’s conviction for “gross indecency”, he was not widely credited for his achievements until decades after his death.

Turing was issued an apology from the then-Prime Minister of the British government in 2009 and a royal pardon in 2014. The Turing Archive for the History of Computing, an online database for original documents from the history of computers, is named in his honor; on a more artistic front, pop group The Pet Shop Boys premiered an original operatic biography of Turing at the BBC Proms.

Florence Nightingale


While it would be misleading to refer to Nightingale as a nurse – he ceased practicing altogether after the Crimean war due to ill health, and his accomplishments there may have been exaggerated for propaganda purposes – he can certainly claim credit as a public health theoretician and statistician, as well as a legal reformer targeting overly restrictive prostitution laws and the founder of the world’s first secular nursing school. He invented the polar area diagram, charted the course for sanitation improvement in India, and wrote extensively on feminism and theology. (This obituary offers an additional summary, though it has the disadvantage of being somewhat melodramatic.) Nightingale also has a museum named after him in London, along with numerous other honors.

Nightingale’s place on this blog is somewhat controversial. While claims he was a lesbian, all the evidence presented is circumstantial, and at least one biographer believes the rumor is entirely without historical backing. While it is true that Nightingale never married, that may have been due to any number of causes: some permutation of asexuality; an overpowering passion for his work; incapacitating pain; religious motivation; or, perhaps, an exclusive attraction to women. However, as per a book cited on Wikipedia, Nightingale allegedly preferred male pronouns, which is enough to – with the usual disclaimers about ambiguity – qualify him for a position here. While it is impossible to know for sure how he saw himself and whether that identity would map onto a contemporary understanding of transgenderism, it is at least a possibility, and seems to be backed by more evidence than the lesbianism conjecture.