Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992)

grace hopper

Grace Murray Hopper, a pioneer in computer technology, was born in New York City in December 1906.  She attended Vassar College, graduating in 1928 with a B.A. in Mathematics.  Then she received a PhD in Mathematics from Yale University in 1934.  In 1930 she married Vincent Foster Hopper, who died in 1945 during World War II.  While earning her PhD, Hopper taught math at Vassar starting in 1931 and she continued teaching there until 1943. 

In 1943, Hopper resigned her position at Vassar to join the Navy WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service).  In 1944, she was commissioned as a Lieutenant (Junior Grade), and she was assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University.  Her team worked on and produced the Mark I, an early prototype of the electronic computer.  Hopper wrote a 500-page Manual of Operations for the Automatic Sequence-Controlled Calculator in which she outlined the fundamental operating principles of computing machines.  Additionally, while working on the Mark I, Hopper coined the word “bug” to describe a computer malfunction.  

After the end of the war, Hopper became a research fellow on the Harvard faculty and in 1949, joined the Eckert-Mauchly Corporation, continuing her pioneering work on computer technology.  Hopper was involved in the creation of UNIVAC, the first all-electronic digital computer.  She invented the first computer compiler, a program that translates written instructions into codes that computers read directly.  This work led her to co-develop the COBOL, one of the earliest standardized computer languages.  COBOL enabled computers to respond to words in addition to numbers.   Hopper also lectured widely on computers, giving up to 300 lectures per year.  She predicted that computers would one day be small enough to fit on a desk and people who were not professional programmers would use them in their every day life. 
 
During her career, she retained her affiliation with the Naval Reserve.  By 1966, she attained the rank of Commander.  The following year in 1967, Commander Hopper was called back to active duty and she was assigned to the Chief of Naval Operations’ staff as Director, Navy Programming Languages Group.  In 1973, she was promoted to Captain, to Commodore in 1983, and to Rear Admiral in 1985.  Hopper remained active in industry and academia until her death in 1992.   

USS Hopper (DDG-70) was named in honor of Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper and she was buried with full Naval honors at Arlington National Cemetery on January 7, 1992.

 

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Books:

  • Billings, Charlene W. Grace Hopper, Navy Admiral and Computer Pioneer. New Jersey: Enslow Publishing, 1989.
  • Marx, Christy. Grace Hopper: The First Woman to Program the First Computer in the United States. New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 2003.   [for ages 9-12]
  • Murphy, Patricia J. Grace Hopper: Computer Whiz. New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, 2004.
  • Williams, Kathleen Broome. Grace Hopper: Admiral of the CyberSea. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2004. [for ages 9-12]

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