Grace Brewster Murray Hopper (née Murray; December 9, 1906 – January 1, 1992) was an American computer scientist and United States Navy rear admiral. One of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, she was a pioneer of computer programming who invented one of the first compiler related tools. She popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, an early high-level programming language still in use today.
Hopper attempted to enlist in the Navy during World War II but was rejected because she was 34 years old. She instead joined the Navy Reserves. Hopper began her computing career in 1944 when she worked on the Harvard Mark I team led by Howard H. Aiken. In 1949, she joined the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation and was part of the team that developed the UNIVAC I computer. At Eckert–Mauchly she began developing the compiler. She believed that a programming language based on English was possible. Her compiler converted English terms into machine code understood by computers. By 1952, Hopper had finished her program linker (originally called a compiler), which was written for the A-0 System.
In 1954, Eckert–Mauchly chose Hopper to lead their department for automatic programming, and she led the release of some of the first compiled languages like FLOW-MATIC. In 1959, she participated in the CODASYL consortium, which consulted Hopper to guide them in creating a machine-independent programming language. This led to the COBOL language, which was inspired by her idea of a language being based on English words. In 1966, she retired from the Naval Reserve, but in 1967, the Navy recalled her to active duty. She retired from the Navy in 1986 and found work as a consultant for the Digital Equipment Corporation, sharing her computing experiences.
Owing to her accomplishments and her naval rank, she was sometimes referred to as "Amazing Grace". The U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper was named for her, as was the Cray XE6 "Hopper" supercomputer at NERSC. During her lifetime, Hopper was awarded 40 honorary degrees from universities across the world. A college at Yale University was renamed in her honor. In 1991, she received the National Medal of Technology. On November 22, 2016, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama.
- 1 Early life and education
- 2 Career
- 3 Retirement
- 4 Post retirement
- 5 Anecdotes
- 6 Death
- 7 Dates of rank
- 8 Awards and honors
- 9 Legacy
- 10 Obituary notices
- 11 See also
- 12 References
- 13 Further reading
- 14 External links
Early life and education
Hopper was born in New York City. She was the eldest of three children. Her parents, Walter Fletcher Murray and Mary Campbell Van Horne, were of Scottish and Dutch descent, and attended West End Collegiate Church. Her great-grandfather, Alexander Wilson Russell, an admiral in the US Navy, fought in the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War.:2–3
Grace was very curious as a child; this was a lifelong trait. At the age of seven, she decided to determine how an alarm clock worked and 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. Hopper was initially rejected for early admission to Vassar College at age 16 (her test scores in Latin were too low), but 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 Øystein 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.
World War II
Hopper had tried to enlist in the Navy early in World War II. She was rejected for multiple reasons. At age 34, she was too old to enlist, and her weight to height ratio was too low. She was also denied on the basis that her job as a mathematician and mathematics professor at Vassar College was valuable to the war effort. During the war in 1943, Hopper obtained a leave of absence from Vassar and was sworn into the United States Navy Reserve; she was one of many women who volunteered to serve in the WAVES. She had to get an exemption to enlist; she was 15 pounds (6.8 kg) below the Navy minimum weight of 120 pounds (54 kg). 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 co-authored three papers on the Mark I, 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 advanced age of 38. She continued to serve in the 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. Hopper also served as UNIVAC director of Automatic Programming Development for Remington Rand. The UNIVAC was the first known large-scale electronic computer to be on the market in 1950, and was more competitive at processing information than the Mark I.
When Hopper recommended the development of a new programming language that would use entirely English words, she "was told very quickly that [she] couldn't do this because computers didn't understand English." Her idea was not accepted for 3 years, and she published her first paper on the subject, compilers, in 1952. 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 program was known as the A compiler and its first version was A-0.:11
In 1952 she had an operational link-loader, which at the time was referred to as a compiler. She later said that "Nobody believed that," and that she "had a running compiler and nobody would touch it. They told me computers could only do arithmetic." She goes on to say that her compiler "translated mathematical notation into machine code. Manipulating symbols was fine for mathematicians but it was no good for data processors who were not symbol manipulators. Very few people are really symbol manipulators. If they are they become professional mathematicians, not data processors. It's much easier for most people to write an English statement than it is to use symbols. So I decided data processors ought to be able to write their programs in English, and the computers would translate them into machine code. That was the beginning of COBOL, a computer language for data processors. I could say "Subtract income tax from pay" instead of trying to write that in octal code or using all kinds of symbols. COBOL is the major language used today in data processing."
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 MATH-MATIC and FLOW-MATIC.
In the spring of 1959, computer experts from industry and government were brought together in a two-day conference known as the Conference on Data Systems Languages (CODASYL). Hopper served as a technical consultant to the committee, and many of her former employees served on the short-term committee that defined the new language COBOL (an acronym for COmmon Business-Oriented Language). The new language extended Hopper's FLOW-MATIC language with some ideas from the IBM equivalent, COMTRAN. Hopper's belief that programs should be written in a language that was close to English (rather than in machine code or in languages close to machine code, such as assembly languages) was captured in the new business language, and COBOL went on to be the most ubiquitous business language to date. Among the members of the committee that worked on COBOL was Mount Holyoke College alumnus Jean E. Sammet.
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 COBOL and its compiler as part of a COBOL standardization program for the entire Navy.
In the 1970s, Hopper advocated for the Defense Department to replace large, centralized systems with networks of small, distributed computers. Any user on any computer node could access common databases located on the network.:119 She developed 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 (NIST).
In accordance with Navy attrition regulations, Hopper retired from the Naval Reserve with the rank of commander at age 60 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 again asked to return to active duty in 1972. She was promoted to captain in 1973 by Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr.
After Republican Representative Philip Crane saw her on a March 1983 segment of 60 Minutes, he championed H.J.Res. 341, a joint resolution originating in the House of Representatives, which led to her promotion to commodore by special Presidential appointment. She remained on active duty for several years beyond mandatory retirement by special approval of Congress. Effective November 8, 1985, the rank of commodore was renamed rear admiral (lower half) and Hopper became one of the Navy's few female admirals.
Following a career that spanned more than 42 years, Admiral Hopper took mandatory retirement from the Navy on August 14, 1986. At a celebration held in Boston on the USS Constitution to commemorate her retirement, Hopper was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat decoration awarded by the Department of Defense.
At the time of her retirement, she was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the United States Navy (79 years, eight months and five days), and had her retirement ceremony aboard the oldest commissioned ship in the United States Navy (188 years, nine months and 23 days). (Admirals William D. Leahy, Chester W. Nimitz, Hyman G. Rickover and Charles Stewart were the only other officers in the Navy's history to serve on active duty at a higher age. Leahy and Nimitz served on active duty for life due to their promotions to the rank of fleet admiral.)
Following her retirement from the Navy, she was hired as a senior consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). Hopper was initially offered the job position by Rita Yavinsky, but she insisted on applying for the position at DEC, and going through the typical formal interview process. She also sent a letter to Yavinsky's boss explaining that she would be available on alternating Thursdays, receiving a high salary, and have access to an unlimited expense account if she were to be exhibited at their museum of computing as a pioneer. After the proposal from Hopper, she was hired as a full-time senior consultant. As part of her position, she would report to Yavinsky. In this position, Hopper represented the company at industry forums, serving on various industry committees, along with other obligations. She retained that position until her death at age 85 in 1992.
Hopper was a goodwill ambassador in her primary activity in this capacity. She lectured widely about the early days of computing, her career, and on efforts that computer vendors could take to make life easier for their users. She visited most of Digital's engineering facilities, where she generally received a standing ovation at the conclusion of her remarks.
She often recounted that during her service she was frequently asked by admirals and generals why satellite communication would take so long. So during many of her lectures, she illustrated a nanosecond using salvaged obsolete Bell System 25 pair telephone cable, she cut it to lengths of 11.8 inches (30 cm), 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 (which is not allowed under U.S. Department of Defense regulation 32 CFR 53.2(a)(2)).
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.
- Throughout much of her later career, 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 that was stuck in a relay; the moth impeded the operation of the relay. While neither Hopper nor her crew mentioned the phrase "debugging" in their logs, the case was held as an instance of literal "debugging." For many years, the term bug had been in use in engineering. 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 that were just under one foot long (11.8 inches (30 cm))—the distance that light travels in one nanosecond. She gave these pieces of wire the metonym "nanoseconds." She was careful to tell her audience that the length of her nanoseconds was actually the maximum speed the signals would travel in a vacuum, and that signals would travel more slowly through the actual wires that were her teaching aids. 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 984 feet long, representing a microsecond. Later, while giving these lectures while working for DEC, she passed out packets of pepper, calling the individual grains of ground pepper picoseconds.
- Jay Elliot described Grace Hopper as appearing to be "'all Navy', but when you reach inside, you find a 'Pirate' dying to be released".
On New Year's Day 1992, Hopper died in her sleep of natural causes at her home in Arlington, Virginia; she was 85 years of age. She was interred with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.
Dates of rank
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- Ensign - December 1943
- Lieutenant (junior grade) - June 27, 1944
- Lieutenant - January 1, 1946
- Lieutenant Commander - April 1, 1952
- Commander - July 1, 1957
- Retired - December 31, 1966
- Recalled to active duty - August 1967
- Retired - 1971
- Recalled to active duty - 1972
- Captain - August 2, 1973
- Commodore - December 15, 1983
- Rear Admiral (Lower Half) - November 8, 1985
- Final retirement - August 31, 1986
Awards and honors
with bronze service star
with two bronze hourglass devices
(1963, 1973, 1983)
- 1964: Hopper was awarded the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award, the Society's highest honor, "In recognition of her significant contributions to the burgeoning computer industry as an engineering manager and originator of automatic programming systems.".
- 1969: Hopper was awarded the inaugural Data Processing Management Association Man of the Year award (now called the Distinguished Information Sciences Award).
- 1971: The annual Grace Murray Hopper Award for Outstanding Young Computer Professionals was established in 1971 by the Association for Computing Machinery.
- 1973: First American and the first woman of any nationality to be made a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society.
- 1982: American Association of University Women Achievement Award and an Honorary Doctor of Science from Marquette University.
- 1985: Honorary Doctor of Letters from Western New England College (now Western New England University).
- 1986: Upon her retirement, she received the Defense Distinguished Service Medal.
- 1986 Honorary Doctor of Science from Syracuse University.
- 1987: The first Computer History Museum Fellow Award Recipient "for contributions to the development of programming languages, for standardization efforts, and for lifelong naval service."
- 1988: Golden Gavel Award at the Toastmasters International convention in Washington, DC.
- 1991: National Medal of Technology.
- 1991: Elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
- 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.
- 2001: The Gracies, the Government Technology Leadership Award were named in her honor.
- 2009: The Department of Energy's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center named its flagship system "Hopper".
- 2009: Office of Naval Intelligence creates the Grace Hopper Information Services Center.
- 2013: Google made the Google Doodle for Hopper's 107th birthday an animation of her sitting at a computer, using COBOL to print out her age. At the end of the animation, a moth flies out of the computer.
- 2016: On November 22, 2016 Hopper was posthumously awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom for her accomplishments in the field of computer science.
- 2017: Hopper College at Yale University was named in her honor.
- Grace Hopper was awarded 40 honorary degrees from universities worldwide during her lifetime.
- Born with Curiosity: The Grace Hopper Story is an upcoming documentary film.
- The Navy's Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center is located at 7 Grace Hopper Avenue in Monterey, California; the National Weather Service's San Francisco / Monterey Bay Area Hydrology / Geomorphology office is at 21 Grace Hopper Avenue.
- Grace M. Hopper Navy Regional Data Automation Center at Naval Air Station, North Island, 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.
- 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. The academy bestows a Grace Murray Hopper Prize to a graduate who excelled in the field of computer systems. 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.
- Vice Admiral Walter E. "Ted" Carter announced on 8 September 2016 at the Athena Conference that the Naval Academy's newest Cyber Operations building would be named Hopper Hall after Admiral Grace Hopper. This is the first building at any service academy named after a woman. In his words, "Grace Hopper was the admiral of the Cyber Seas."
- The US Naval Academy also owns a Cray XC-30 supercomputer named "Grace," hosted at the University of Maryland-College Park.
- Building 1482 aboard Naval Air Station North Island, housing the Naval Computer and Telecommunication Station San Diego, is named the Grace Hopper Building.
- Building 6007, C2/CNT West, Command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, or C4ISR, Center of Excellence in Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland is named the Rear Admiral Grace Hopper Building.
- Grace Hopper Academy is a for-profit immersive programming school in New York City named in Grace Hopper's honor. It opened in January 2016 with the goal of increasing the proportion of women in software engineering careers.
- A bridge over Goose Creek, to join the north and south sides of the Naval Support Activity Charleston side of Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, is named the Grace Hopper Memorial Bridge in her honor.
- Women at Microsoft Corporation formed an employee group called Hoppers and established a scholarship in her honor. Hoppers has over 3000 members worldwide.
- Beginning in 2015, one of the nine competition fields at the FIRST Robotics Competition world championship is named for Hopper.
- On February 11, 2017 Yale University announced its intent to rename Calhoun College, one of its twelve undergraduate residential colleges, after Hopper following years of controversy about its previous namesake John C. Calhoun. Hopper was a graduate of Yale University, receiving an M.A. in 1930 and a Ph.D in 1934.
- A named professorship in the Department of Computer Sciences was established at Yale University in her honor. Joan Feigenbaum was named to this chair in 2008.
In popular culture
- In his comic book series, Secret Coders by Gene Luen Yang, the main character is named Gracie Hopper.
Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing
Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is a convention for Women in the field of Computer Science and Technology. It is named after Hopper to honor her for her work and influence in the field of computing, and her push for more women to enter and stay in the tech field. It features a wide array of educational and professional development courses and workshops, including a lesson on compilers, which Hopper invented and pioneered, and a career fair, in order to help connect women in the computing field with potential employers.
Her legacy was an inspiring factor in the creation of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Held yearly, this conference is designed to bring the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront.
- Betts, Mitch (Computerworld 26: 14, 1992)
- Bromberg, Howard (IEEE Software 9: 103–104, 1992)
- Danca, Richard A. (Federal Computer Week 6: 26–27, 1992)
- Hancock, Bill (Digital Review 9: 40, 1992)
- Power, Kevin (Government Computer News 11: 70, 1992)
- Sammet, J. E. (Communications of the ACM 35 (4): 128–131, 1992)
- Weiss, Eric A. (IEEE Annals of the History of Computing 14: 56–58, 1992)
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- Code: Debugging the Gender Gap
- Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing
- List of pioneers in computer science
- Systems engineering
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- Women in the United States Navy
- List of female United States military generals and flag officers
- Timeline of women in science
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Commodore Grace M. Hopper, USNR. receives congratulations from President Ronald Reagan, following her promotion from the rank of Captain to Commodore in ceremonies at the White House, 15 December 1983
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"[to President Ronald Reagan on her promotion] Sir ... I'm older than you are ... YouTube title: Grace Hopper on Letterman
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- "Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing". Gracehopper.org. Retrieved December 9, 2013.
- "We Went to the Grace Hopper Celebration. Here's What We're Bringing Back". The New York Times. October 31, 2016.
- Beyer, Kurt W. (September 30, 2009). Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age (1st ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-01310-9. Search this book on
- Marx, Christy (August 2003). Grace Hopper: the first woman to program the first computer in the United States. Women hall of famers in mathematics and science (1st ed.). New York City: Rosen Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-8239-3877-3. Search this book on
- Norman, Rebecca (June 1997). "Biographies of Women Mathematicians: Grace Murray Hopper". Agnes Scott College. Retrieved 2014-11-17.
- Williams, Kathleen Broome (November 15, 2004). Grace Hopper: Admiral of the Cyber Sea (1st ed.). Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-55750-952-9. Search this book on
- Williams, Kathleen Broome (2001). Improbable Warriors: Women Scientists and the U.S. Navy in World War II. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 978-1-55750-961-1. Search this book on Williams' book focuses on the lives and contributions of four notable women scientists: Mary Sears (1905–1997); Florence van Straten (1913–1992); Grace Murray Hopper (1906–1992); Mina Spiegel Rees (1902–1997).
- Grace Hopper at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
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- Oral History of Captain Grace Hopper - Interviewed by: Angeline Pantages 1980, Naval Data Automation Command, Maryland.
- RADM Grace Hopper, USN Ret. at the Wayback Machine (archived February 24, 2010) from Chips, the United States Navy information technology magazine.
- Grace Hopper: Navy to the Core, a Pirate at Heart (2014), To learn more about Hopper's story and Navy legacy navy.mil.
- The Queen of Code (2015), a documentary film about Grace Hopper produced by FiveThirtyEight.
- Norwood, Arlisha. "Grace Hopper". National Women's History Museum. 2017.