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Spotlight on Women: Rear Admiral Grace Hopper “The Queen of Code”

Updated: Apr 26

Grace Brewster Murray Hopper was a charismatic original thinker, her upbeat and optimistic take on life had a way of inspiring the people around her. Born in New York in December of 1906, she had a keen interest in engineering even as a young child and would dismantle and reassemble the household alarm clocks. Her childlike curiosity and genius led her to graduate from Vassar College with a bachelor’s degree and later with a master’s and PhD in Mathematics from Yale University. Such a degree earned by a woman in 1934 was indeed a rarity.

When World War II began Hopper was an associate professor at Vassar College. In December 1943 she decided to leave her teaching position to join the U.S. Naval Reserve, also her grandfather’s branch of service. 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. This was the beginning of Hopper’s computing career.

When the war ended, she remained with the Navy as a reserve officer. In 1949, she joined the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation as head programmer and was part of the team that developed the UNIVAC I computer (the first all-electronic digital computer). As a research fellow at Harvard, she worked with the Mark II and Mark III computers and coined the term “computer bug” when a moth infiltrated the circuits of Mark I causing it to malfunction. Hopper also led the team that created the first computer language compiler, a program that translates written instructions into codes that computers read directly. This work led her to co-develop the COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language), one of the earliest standardized computer languages.

Grace Hopper never stopped working and teaching and resumed active naval service at the age of 60, serving in the navy for another 19 years. When she retired in 1986, at age 79, she had achieved rank of Rear Admiral as well as the oldest serving officer in the service. While Grace Hopper was a woman of countless accomplishments, awards, and recognitions, she stated that her greatest joy in life came from teaching and training the next generation. She passed away January 1st in 1992 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Fun Facts:

· Grace Hopper appeared on television with David Letterman in 1986, during which she explained nanoseconds and picoseconds to her host.

· The USS Hopper, a naval ship that was commissioned in 1997, was named in Grace Hopper's honor.

· She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 by Barak Obama.

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