Inspiring STEM Women: Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper was an American computer scientist and United States Navy rear admiral. She was known as ‘Amazing Grace’ or Admiral of the Cybersea due to her many computing innovations. Born in the New York City in 1906, Hopper studied mathematics and physics at Vassar College. She then continued her education at Yale University, receiving a Master’s Degree and a Ph.D. in 1934 both in mathematics. This accomplishment meant she was one of the first few women to earn such a degree in STEM related fields.

Due to the occurrence of World War II, Hopper desired to join the US Naval Reserve in 1943. Although being 15 pounds under the Navy required weight of 120 pounds, Hopper was enlisted and graduated first of her class in 1944. She was then commissioned as a lieutenant and assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University, due to her mathematical background. There, she learned how to program a Mark I computer, that was used in the war effort, and co-authored three papers on the Mark I alongside Howard H. Aiken.

In 1949, she recommended that a new programming language be developed using entirely English words, but was rejected as many people did not think this was possible for a computer to do. Her idea wasn't accepted for 3 years. But by 1952, she had developed an operational compiler, A-0. A compiler is a computer program that converts code written in a language that programmers can understand to 0s and 1s for the computer to understand, thus proving the people who doubted her wrong. After the war, Hopper remained as a reserve officer with the Navy and worked with the Mark II and Mark III computers. Hopper is also known for popularizing the term ‘computer bug’ after finding a live moth in the Mark II computer and ‘debugging’ it. She remained in the Navy for 19 years and when retired at age 79 she was the oldest serving officer.

However, even after retirement Hopper remained in the computer industry for several more years. In that time she was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 1991, becoming the first female recipient of that honour. She later died at the age of 85 in 1992. Her legacy still lives on, however, in modern society as she is a thoroughly inspirational figure. Dr Anita Borg and Dr Telle Whitney founded the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference for the women in the fields of computing and technology. It is the world’s largest gathering of female technologists and aims to highlight and give recognition to women’s contributions to computing.

In addition to this, Yale University in 2017 also renamed Calhoun College after Hopper following the controversy of its previous name, consolidating her as notable alumni of the university. She is also on a very short list of US military vessels named after women as the USS Hopper. Finally, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously to add to her vast collection of honours and awards.

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Written by: Cassie Walker 

Posted on Monday Jun 26