Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper (December 9, 1906 -
January 1, 1992) was an American computer scientist and United States Navy
officer. A pioneer in the field, she was one of the first programmers of the
Harvard Mark I computer, and developed the first compiler for a computer
programming language. She conceptualized the idea of machine-independent
programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the
first modern programming languages. She is credited with popularizing the
term "debugging" for fixing computer glitches (motivated by an actual
moth removed from the computer). Because of the breadth of her
accomplishments and her naval rank, she is sometimes referred to as
Early life and education:
Hopper was born Grace Brewster Murray in New York City. She was the oldest in
a family of 3 children. She was curious as a child, a life long trait. She
decided at seven years old to determine how an alarm clock works. She
dismantled seven alarm clocks before her mother realized what she was doing.
She was then limited to one clock. For her preparatory school education, she
attended the Hartridge School in Plainfield, New Jersey. Rejected for early
admission to Vassar College at age 16 (her test scores in Latin were too
low), she was admitted the following year. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from
Vassar in 1928 with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics and earned
her Master's degree at Yale University in 1930.
In 1934, she earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale under the direction of
Oystein Ore. Her dissertation, New Types of Irreducibility Criteria, was
published that same year. Hopper began teaching mathematics at Vassar in
1931, and was promoted to associate professor in 1941.
She was married to NYU professor Vincent Foster Hopper (1906-1945) from
1930-1945. She never remarried and kept his surname.
World War II Naval service:
In 1943, Hopper obtained a leave of absence from Vassar and was sworn in to
the United States Navy Reserve, one of many women to volunteer to serve in
the WAVES. She had to get an exemption to enlist; she was 15 pounds below the
Navy minimum weight of 120 pounds. She reported in December and trained at
the Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School at Smith College in Northampton,
Massachusetts. Hopper graduated first in her class in 1944, and was assigned
to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University as a
Lieutenant, junior grade. She served on the Mark I computer programming staff
headed by Howard H. Aiken. Hopper and Aiken coauthored three papers on the
Mark I,II,II also known as the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator.
Hopper's request to transfer to the regular Navy at the end of the war was
declined due to her age (38). She continued to serve in the United States
Navy Reserve. Hopper remained at the Harvard Computation Lab until 1949,
turning down a full professorship at Vassar in favor of working as a research
fellow under a Navy contract at Harvard.
In 1949, Hopper became an employee of the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation
as a senior mathematician and joined the team developing the UNIVAC I. In the
early 1950s the company was taken over by the Remington Rand corporation and
it was while she was working for them that her original compiler work was
done. The compiler was known as the A compiler and its first version was A-0.
In 1954 Hopper was named the company's first director of automatic
programming, and her department released some of the first compiler-based
programming languages, including ARITH-MATIC, MATH-MATIC and FLOW-MATIC.
In the spring of 1959 a two day conference known as the CODASYL brought
together computer experts from industry and government. Hopper served as the
technical consultant to the committee, and many of her former employees
served on the short-term committee that defined the new language, COBOL. The
new language extended Hopper's FLOW-MATIC language with some ideas from the
IBM equivalent, the COMTRAN. Hopper's belief that programs should be written
in a language that was close to English rather than in machine code or
languages close to machine code (such as assembly language) was captured in
the new business language, and COBOL would go on to be the most ubiquitous
business language to date.
From 1967 to 1977, Hopper served as the director of the Navy Programming
Languages Group in the Navy's Office of Information Systems Planning and was
promoted to the rank of Captain in 1973. She developed validation software
for the programming language COBOL and its compiler as part of a COBOL
standardization program for the entire Navy.
In the 1970s, she pioneered the implementation of standards for testing
computer systems and components, most significantly for early programming
languages such as FORTRAN and COBOL. The Navy tests for conformance to these
standards led to significant convergence among the programming language
dialects of the major computer vendors. In the 1980s, these tests (and their
official administration) were assumed by the National Bureau of Standards
(NBS), known today as the National Institute of Standards and Technology
Hopper retired from the Naval Reserve with the rank of Commander at the end
of 1966. She was recalled to active duty in August 1967 for a six-month
period that turned into an indefinite assignment. She again retired in 1971
but was asked to return to active duty again in 1972. She was promoted to
Captain in 1973 by Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr.
After Rep. Philip Crane saw her on a March 1983 segment of 60 Minutes, he
championed H.J.RES. 341, a joint resolution in the House of Representatives
which led to her promotion to Commodore by special Presidential appointment.
In 1985, the rank of Commodore was renamed Rear Admiral, Lower Half. She
retired (involuntarily) from the Navy on August 14, 1986. At a celebration held
in Boston on the USS Constitution to celebrate her retirement, Hopper was
awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat award
possible by the Department of Defense. At the moment of her retirement, she
was the oldest commissioned officer in the United States Navy (79 years,
eight months and five days), and aboard the oldest commissioned ship in the
United States Navy (188 years, nine months and 23 days).
She was then hired as a senior consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation, a
position she retained until her death in 1992, aged 85.
Her primary activity in this capacity was as a Goodwill Ambassador, lecturing
widely on the early days of computers, her career, and on efforts that
computer vendors could take to make life easier for their users. She visited
a large fraction of Digital's engineering facilities where she generally
received a standing ovation at the conclusion of her remarks. Although she
was an interesting and competent speaker, the most memorable part of these talks
was her illustration of a nanosecond. She salvaged an obsolete Bell System 25
pair telephone cable, cut it to 11.8 inch (30 cm) lengths (which is the
distance that light travels in one nanosecond) and handed out the individual
wires to her listeners. Although no longer a serving officer, she always wore
her Navy full dress uniform to these lectures.
She was laid to rest with full military honors in Arlington National
Cemetery; Section 59, grave 973.
1969 – She won the inaugural "computer sciences man of the year"
award from the Data Processing Management Association.
1971 – The annual Grace Murray Hopper Award for Outstanding Young Computer
Professionals was established in 1971 by the
Association for Computing Machinery.
1973 – She became the first person from the United States and the first woman
of any nationality to be made a Distinguished Fellow of the
British Computer Society.
1986 – Upon her retirement she received the Defense Distinguished Service
1987 – She became a Computer History Museum Fellow Award Recipient.
1988 – She received the Golden Gavel Award at the Toastmasters International
convention in Washington, DC.
1991 – She received the National Medal of Technology.
1996 – USS Hopper (DDG-70) was launched. Nicknamed Amazing Grace, it is on a
very short list of U.S. military vessels named after women.
2001 – Eavan Boland wrote a poem dedicated to Grace Hopper titled
"Code" in her 2001 release "Against Love Poetry"
2009 – The Department of Energy's National Energy Research Scientific
Computing Center named its flagship system "Hopper".
The Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center is located at 7 Grace
Hopper Avenue in Monterey, California.
Grace Murray Hopper Park, located on South Joyce Street in Arlington,
Virginia, is a small memorial park in front of her former residence (River
House Apartments) and is now owned by Arlington County, Virginia.
Women at the world's largest software company, Microsoft Corporation, formed
an employee group called Hoppers and established a scholarship in her honor.
Hoppers has over 3000 members worldwide.
Brewster Academy, a school located in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, United
States, dedicated their computer lab to her in 1985, calling it the Grace
Murray Hopper Center for Computer Learning. Hopper had spent her childhood
summers at a family home in Wolfeboro.
An administration building on Naval Support Activity Annapolis (Previously
known as Naval Station Annapolis) in Annapolis, Maryland is named the Grace
Hopper Building in her honor.
Building 1482 aboard Naval Air Station North Island, housing the Naval
Computer and Telecommunication Station San Diego, is named the Grace Hopper
Throughout much of her later career, Grace Hopper was much in demand as a
speaker at various computer-related events. She was well-known for her lively
and irreverent speaking style, as well as a rich treasury of early war
stories. She also received the nickname "Grandma COBOL".
While she was working on a Mark II Computer at Harvard University in 1947,
her associates discovered a moth stuck in a relay and thereby impeding
operation, whereupon she remarked that they were "debugging" the
system. Though the term computer bug cannot be definitively attributed to
Admiral Hopper, she did bring the term into popularity. The remains of the
moth can be found in the group's log book at the Smithsonian Institution's
National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.
Grace Hopper is famous for her nanoseconds visual aid. People (such as
generals and admirals) used to ask her why satellite communication took so
long. She started handing out pieces of wire which were just under one foot
long, which is the distance that light travels in one nanosecond. She gave
these pieces of wire the metonym "nanoseconds." Later she used the
same pieces of wire to illustrate why computers had to be small to be fast.
At many of her talks and visits, she handed out "nanoseconds" to
everyone in the audience, contrasting them with a coil of wire nearly a
thousand feet long, representing a microsecond. Later, while giving these
lectures while working for DEC, she passed out packets of pepper which she
The famous quotation "It's easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get
permission" is often attributed to Grace Hopper.
from: wikipedia - the free encyclopedia