Bonnette was born and raised in Louisiana and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mathematics from Louisiana State University. She worked for a time at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, a major federal research facility that grew out of the Manhattan Project. In 1962, she was hired to run Norwich University’s brand-new computer center and to teach as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics. Her title would change to Assistant Professor of Computer Science in 1969 as she helped lead the university into the already rapidly evolving information age.
In 1965, Professor Bonnette received permission to wear a Women’s Army Corps uniform with captain’s insignia, reflecting her academic rank. She thus became the first woman to don a uniform at Norwich University and to garner salutes from the Corps of Cadets.
A groundbreaker in many ways, Professor Bonnette was instrumental in establishing Norwich as a hub of technological innovation—the university’s IBM 1620 computer was one of the few in Vermont, and supported teaching, learning, and research across the state. Today, Norwich’s highly ranked cybersecurity program continues this tradition. Norwich University is recognized as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and has received designation as a Center of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence (CDFAE) by the Defense Cyber Crime Center (DC3).
Professor Bonnette received tenure in 1969, marking another milestone as the first woman to receive tenure at Norwich. She departed just a few years later, and went on to have a long career as a computer analyst for the State of Vermont.
The second female faculty member was Ann Turner, a long-serving librarian who was granted faculty status in 1968.
You can learn more about the history of women at Norwich by contacting the Norwich University Archives. To learn more about Norwich’s computer program in the 1960s, read post #34 in the 200 Things About Norwich series, Norwich on the Cutting Edge of Computing Technology.