Born as Grace Brewster Murray in December 9, 1906, Admiral Grace Hopper was a pioneer in the field of computer science, and an inspiration to women scientists everywhere.

She began teaching mathematics in Vassar in 1941, but quit to join the navy in 1943. Working for the military, she was assigned to work with Howard Aiken in Harvard, programming the Mark I, a state-of-the-art computer that could store 72 words, and perform 3 additions per second.

Famous (infamous?) for creating the language COBOL, Dr. Hopper published in the course of her life over 50 papers on software and programming languages. In fact, she is credited as the developer of the first compiler. Grace Hopper is also popularly known (not entirely accurately) as the person who coined the term "bug", when she traced a computer error to a literal bug -- a moth trapped in a relay.

Grace Hopper was the first naval reserve to be called back into active duty (in 1966, to help standardize the COBOL language after the navy could not create a payroll software after 823 attempts). She was the first person to get the Computer Science Man-of-the-Year Award by the Data Processing Management Association, and the first woman to become Distinguished fellow of the British Computer Society. She was also one of the first women to be elevated to the rank of Rear Admiral.

Grace Murray Hopper died on January 1, 1992. She was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery

References and more information:
http://www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/hopper.html
http://www.norfolk.navy.mil/chips/grace_hopper/file2.htm
http://www.agnesscott.edu/lriddle/women/hopper.htm

During the 86 years of her life, Grace Hopper's contributions to the field of computer science theory have secured her a place as the one of the first ladies of the information age. Born in New York City on 9 December 1906, Hopper was expressing a talent for math and a fascination with mechanical gadgets even at a very early age. Because of the cultural stigma against women in math, Hopper was forced to hire a private tutor to sate her appetite for the subject. Her vigorous study paid off when she graduated from high school several years early and applied to study at the Ivy League.

Though being rejected initially by Vassar, she reapplied and was accepted the following year. In 1928, at the age of 22, Vassar awarded her Bachelor's degrees in both mathematics and physics. The following year she was accepted to Yale to do her graduate work in mathematics, earning both a Master's degree and a PhD from the university in 1930 and 1934, respectively. Hopper was the first woman to receive a PhD in mathematics from that institution.

Following America's entry into the second World War in 1941, Hopper made a decision that would define her legacy. Rather than stay at her position as a math professor at Vassar, she decided to help her country by enlisting in the Navy. After two years spent fighting the Navy's enlistment restrictions, Hopper was finally sworn into the Naval Reserve, graduating first in her class at the Navy's officer training school. After graduation, the Navy decided to put her particular talents to work, assigned Hopper to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project, based at Harvard University. There, she became one of the first programmers for the Mark I computer, the world's first large-scale digital computer, a technological masterpiece that performed an amazing three operations per second. The Mark I was eventually replaced by the Mark II and Mark III machines, both of which saw service under Hopper. Computer lore has it that Hopper was the first to use the term "bug" after a moth flew into one of the Mark I's relays. This story is a myth, as scientists at Harvard had been calling computing errors "bugs" for several years.

After being honorably discharged from active duty in 1946 because of her age, and turning down her old job at Vassar, Hopper signed on to remain at Harvard as a research fellow with the university's Engineering Sciences and Applied Physics department. In 1949, she was once again enticed away from the ivory tower, this time by a position as senior mathematician with the Eckert-Mauchley Computer Corporation. There she would help develop the company's BINAC machine, the computer that would pave the way for the later, more well-known UNIVAC series.

In the early 1950's, Hopper began the most important phase of her work, releasing a piece of software called A-0, the world's first compiler. This allowed functions to be stored and retrieved later, a tool that cut programming time drastically. This savings in time fit with her goal in developing the compiler, which was to allow the computer programmer to return to being a mathematician, and also because she was lazy. Subsequent versions of the compiler developed and extended the concepts found in the original, laying the groundwork for what we now know as programming language theory. Within a short time, the A series of compilers evolved into FLOW-MATIC, which was released commercially as the first English-language data processing language.

In 1959, another one of Hopper's creations was released upon the world. She has been instrumental in the development of FLOW-MATIC's successor, the Common Business-Oriented Language, or COBOL. In 1966, Hopper retired entirely from the Navy, although the government changed its mind and immediately recalled her to duty continuing her work with COBOL. During this time, she was a key player in pushing the global standardization of COBOL and other programming languages, including writing code to translate programs in non-standard dialects to the published specification.

Hopper continued to rise through the Navy's ranks, being promoted to Commodore in 1983 by special Presidential appointment, and again two years later to the rank of Rear Admiral. In 1986, she formally and finally retired from the Navy at age 80, ending her 43-year career with the service. In addition to her various military ranks and numerous citations, Hopper was awarded multiple honorary PhDs from universities across the nation, as well as the National Medal of Technology in 1991, America's highest honor for contributions to engineering and technology.

Grace Hopper died on 1 January 1992, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.


Bibliography:
  • http://www.agnesscott.edu/lriddle/women/hopper.htm
  • http://www.norfolk.navy.mil/chips/grace_hopper/file2.htm accessed via the Internet Archive at http://web.archive.org/web/20030414002609/http://www.norfolk.navy.mil/chips/grace_hopper/file2.htm
  • http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Mathematicians/Hopper.html

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