Grace Brewster Murray Hopper was born in New York City and was the oldest of three children. Her early fascination on how things worked forced her mother to restrict Grace to one dismantled alarm clock, after Grace took apart seven others. She was initially rejected by Vassar College, but was later admitted, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics. Grace earned her Masters’ and PhD in mathematics from Yale University. She returned to Vassar to teach, being promoted to Associate Professor in 1941.
During WWII, Grace joined the United States Navy Reserve, assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University. Remaining in the Naval Reserve after the war, Hopper was the oldest active duty commissioned officer in the US Naval Reserve when she retired at age 80 with the rank of Commander (after three previous forced resignations and reinstatements). She was promoted to Rear Admiral by Presidential appointment, to honor her contribution to computer science during her career. She served as a senior consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation, where she worked until her death at age 85.
Lived: 1906 - 1992 (U.S.A.)
Why She Matters
Rear Admiral Grace Hopper developed the COBOL programming language, invented the first programming language compiler, and coined the term “De-Bugging” after her team removed a moth stuck in a computer relay. She was affectionately known as “Amazing Grace” due to her many accomplishments, and Grandma COBOL for the programming language she developed.
The first computer bug was preserved in Grace Hopper's project notebook with the notation: "First actual case of bug being found".
During her wartime service, co-authored three papers based on her work on the pioneering Harvard Mark 1, or Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator
Was part of the team developing the UNIVAC computer - the first commercial computer produced in the United States
In 1952, developed the first operational compiler, a computer program that converts computer source code into an executable program. No one believed this was possible, as computers only did mathematical computation at that time
Was a technical consultant on the committee that defined COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language), which extended her FLOW-MATIC language, to become the most commonly used business programming language to date
In the 1970s, advocated for the US DoD to replace large, centralized systems with networks of small, distributed computers, changing how computers were used
Developed the implementation of standards for testing computer systems and components, which led to significant convergence in the programming dialects of major computer vendors
Was passionate about improving the computer-user-experience, and was an in-demand public speaker and goodwill ambassador for the technical sciences
She received many awards and over 40 honorary degrees in her lifetime
Leaving a Legacy
A guided missile destroyer (USS Hopper) and the Cray XE6 supercomputer at NERSC are named after her
Numerous professorships, academic chairs, streets, buildings, schools, parks, bridges, etc. are named for her, as well as many awards and scholarships
One of the nine competition fields at the FIRST Robotics competition world championship is named for Hopper
Born with Curiosity: The Grace Hopper Story is an upcoming documentary film
Women at Microsoft Corporation formed an employee group called Hoppers and established a scholarship in her honor. Hoppers has over 3000 members worldwide
She summed up her life this way, “The most important thing I've accomplished, other than building the compiler, is training young people. They come to me, you know, and say, 'Do you think we can do this?' I say, 'Try it.' And I back 'em up. They need that. I keep track of them as they get older and I stir 'em up at intervals so they don't forget to take chances.”
The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is the world’s largest gathering of women technologists