With two degrees in history, I enjoy researching and writing about historical events that the history books tend to gloss over.
A Curious Mind
Many today have never heard the name Grace Hopper, yet, she has changed the way people learn, communicate, and work. Born in December 1906, Grace Murray was the oldest of three children. Grace had a character trait that would lead her to become an innovator-curiosity. As a child, she decided to learn how an alarm clock worked and dismantled seven of them before her mother caught her. Rather than dampening her curiosity, her mother simply limited Grace to one alarm clock on which to tinker.
Education and Early Career
Attending both Vassar and later Yale University, Grace earned her degrees in mathematics and physics. In 1934, while teaching mathematics at Vassar, she earned her PhD in Mathematics from Yale, while also publishing her dissertation New Types of Irreducibility Criteria. By 1941 she was promoted to associate professor.
Two years later, in 1943, Grace Hopper took a sabbatical from Vassar and enlisted in the US Navy reserve as part of the WAVES. Enlisting in the Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School, Grace graduated at the top of her class and was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University as a lieutenant, junior grade. While assigned to the Computation Project, Grace served on the Mark I computer programming staff. This computer was an electromechanical computer utilized during the war effort in the last years of WWII. Turning down a full professorship at Vassar, Grace chose to remain under Navy contract at Harvard.
Contributions to Computer Technology
In 1949, Grace joined the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation as head programmer working to create the UNIVAC, the first general purpose digital computer designed for business and produced in the US. This became the first large-scale electronic computer on the market in 1950 and out performed the Mark I in processing information.
By the 1960’s Hopper’s development of compilers for COBOL (common business-oriented language) lead to their widespread usage. She retired from the navy in 1966 as a commander. However, the navy wasn’t ready to say good-bye and she was recalled to active duty the following year to help standardize the navy’s computer languages.
Promoted to commodore, later combined into the rank of Rear Admiral, in 1983, Grace Hopper was the oldest active-duty officer in the US navy. She retired for a second time in 1986. Earning several awards throughout her career, Hopper was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, posthumously, in 2016. When asked what accomplishment she was most proud, Hopper replied, “all the young people I’ve trained over the years; that’s more important than writing the first compiler.”
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Grace Hopper." Encyclopedia Britannica, January 20, 2021. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Grace-Hopper.
Dickason, Elizabeth (April 1992). "Looking Back: Grace Murray Hopper's Younger Years". Chips.
"Grace Hopper". womenshistory.org. National Women's History Museum. Retrieved July 11, 2018.
Williams, Kathleen Broome (2001). Improbable Warriors: Women Scientists and the U.S. Navy in World War II. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press.
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on February 27, 2021:
Such a woman is a legeng indeed.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 26, 2021:
Grace Hopper had to be a genius. What a remarkable woman! Ni, I had never heard o her. This is a very intersting article, Brandy.