Who Was Grace Hopper?
Grace Hopper joined the U.S. Navy during World War II and was assigned to program the Mark I computer. She continued to work in computing after the war, leading the team that created the first computer language compiler, which led to the popular COBOL language. She resumed active naval service at the age of 60, becoming a rear admiral before retiring in 1986.
Born Grace Brewster Murray in New York City on December 9, 1906, Grace Hopper studied math and physics at Vassar College. After graduating from Vassar in 1928, she proceeded to Yale University, where she received a master's degree in mathematics in 1930. That same year, she married Vincent Foster Hopper, becoming Grace Hopper (a name that she kept even after the couple's 1945 divorce). Starting in 1931, Hopper began teaching at Vassar while also continuing to study at Yale, where she earned a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1934—becoming one of the first few women to earn such a degree.
World War II
Hopper, who became an associate professor at Vassar, continued to teach until World War II compelled her to join the U.S. Naval Reserve in December 1943 (she opted for the Navy, as it had been her grandfather's branch of service). She was commissioned as a lieutenant in June 1944. Given her mathematical background, Hopper was assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University, where she learned to program a Mark I computer.
Career in Computing
After the war, Hopper remained with the Navy as a reserve officer. As a research fellow at Harvard, she worked with the Mark II and Mark III computers. She was at Harvard when a moth was found to have shorted out the Mark II, and is sometimes given credit for the invention of the term "computer bug"—though she didn't actually author the term, she did help popularize it.
Wanting to continue to work with computers, Hopper moved into private industry in 1949, first with the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, then with Remington Rand, where she oversaw programming for the UNIVAC computer. In 1952, her team created the first compiler for computer languages (a compiler renders worded instructions into code that can be read by computers). This compiler was a precursor for the Common Business Oriented Language, or COBOL, a widely adapted language that would be used around the world. Though she did not invent COBOL, Hopper encouraged its adaptation.
Return to the Navy
Hopper retired from the Naval Reserve in 1966, but her pioneering computer work meant that she was recalled to active duty—at the age of 60—to tackle standardizing communication between different computer languages. She would remain with the Navy for 19 years. When she retired in 1986, at age 79, she was a rear admiral as well as the oldest serving officer in the service.
Later Years, Death and Legacy
Saying that she would be "bored stiff" if she stopped working entirely, Hopper took another job post-retirement and stayed in the computer industry for several more years. She was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 1991—becoming the first female individual recipient of the honor. At the age of 85, she died in Arlington, Virginia, on January 1, 1992. She was laid to rest in the Arlington National Cemetery.
In 1997, the guided missile destroyer, USS Hopper, was commissioned by the Navy in San Francisco. In 2004, the University of Missouri has honored Hopper with a computer museum on its campus, dubbed “Grace’s Place.” On display are early computers and computer components to educate visitors on the evolution of the technology.
In addition to her programming accomplishments, Hopper's legacy includes encouraging young people to learn how to program. The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women In Computing Conference is a technical conference that encourages women to become part of the world of computing, while the Association for Computing Machinery offers a Grace Murray Hopper Award. Additionally, on her birthday in 2013, Hopper was remembered with a "Google Doodle."
In 2016, Hopper was posthumously honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.
- Name: Grace Hopper
- Birth Year: 1906
- Birth date: December 9, 1906
- Birth State: New York
- Birth City: New York
- Birth Country: United States
- Gender: Female
- Best Known For: Computer programmer Grace Hopper helped develop a compiler that was a precursor to the widely used COBOL language and became a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy.
- World War II
- Astrological Sign: Sagittarius
- Yale University
- Vassar College
- Interesting Facts
- Grace Hopper became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University in 1934.
- In 1952, Grace Hopper and her team created the first compiler for computer languages.
- Grace Hopper became the first female individual recipient of the National Medal of Technology in 1991.
- When she retired from the U.S. Navy in 1986, at age 79, Grace Hopper was the oldest serving officer in the service.
- The USS Hopper, a naval ship that was commissioned in 1997, was named in Grace Hopper's honor.
- Grace Hopper appeared on television with David Letterman in 1986, during which she explained nanoseconds and picoseconds to her host.
- Death Year: 1992
- Death date: January 1, 1992
- Death State: Virginia
- Death City: Arlington
- Death Country: United States
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- Article Title: Grace Hopper Biography
- Author: Biography.com Editors
- Website Name: The Biography.com website
- Url: https://www.biography.com/scientists/grace-hopper
- Access Date:
- Publisher: A&E; Television Networks
- Last Updated: May 10, 2021
- Original Published Date: April 3, 2014
- People have an enormous tendency to resist change. They love to say, 'We've always done it this way.' I try to fight that.
- I tell everybody, 'Go ahead and do it. You can always apologize later.'
- Compiling in '51, nobody believed that. I had a running compiler and nobody would touch it, because, they carefully told me, computers could only do arithmetic, they could not write programs. It was a selling job to get people to try it.
- People are allergic to change. You have to get out and sell the idea.