Grace Hopper

Grace Murray Hopper

Rear Admiral Grace M. Hopper
Nickname(s) "Amazing Grace"
Born (1906-12-09)December 9, 1906
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died January 1, 1992(1992-01-01) (aged 85)
Arlington, Virginia, U.S.
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance  United States of America
Service/branch  United States Navy
Years of service 1943–1966, 1967–1971, 1972–1986
Rank Rear admiral (lower half)
Awards Defense Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit
Meritorious Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Armed Forces Reserve Medal with two Hourglass Devices
Naval Reserve Medal
Presidential Medal of Freedom (posthumous)

Grace Brewster Murray Hopper (née Murray; December 9, 1906  January 1, 1992) was an American computer scientist and United States Navy Rear Admiral.[1] She was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer in 1944,[2] invented the first compiler for a computer programming language,[3][4][5][6][7] and was one of those who popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first high-level programming languages.

Owing to her accomplishments and her naval rank, she is sometimes referred to as "Amazing Grace".[8][9] The U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) is named for her, as is the Cray XE6 "Hopper" supercomputer at NERSC.[10]

She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama on November 22, 2016.[11]

Early life and education

Grace Hopper (As Told By U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith)

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Hopper was born in New York City. She was the eldest of her family's three children. Her parents, Walter Fletcher Murray and Mary Campbell Van Horne, were of Dutch and Scottish descent, and attended West End Collegiate Church.[12] Her great-grandfather, Alexander Wilson Russell, an admiral in the US Navy, fought in the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War.

Grace was very curious as a child, 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).[13] 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[14] under the direction of Øystein Ore.[15][16] Her dissertation, New Types of Irreducibility Criteria, was published that same year.[17] Hopper began teaching mathematics at Vassar in 1931, and was promoted to associate professor in 1941.[18]

She was married to New York University professor Vincent Foster Hopper (1906–76) from 1930 until their divorce in 1945.[15][19] She did not marry again, but she kept his surname.


World War II

Hopper's signatures on a duty officer signup sheet for the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard, which built and operated the Mark I

In 1943, during World War II, Hopper obtained a leave of absence from Vassar and was sworn into 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 (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 coauthored 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 age (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.[20]


In 1949, Hopper became an employee of the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation as a senior mathematician and joined the team developing the UNIVAC I.[18] 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.[21]:11

In 1952 she had an operational compiler. "Nobody believed that," she said. "I had a running compiler and nobody would touch it. They told me computers could only do arithmetic."[22]

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.[18]


Grace Murray Hopper at the UNIVAC keyboard, c. 1960

In the spring of 1959, a two-day conference known as the Conference on Data Systems Languages (CODASYL) brought together computer experts from industry and government. 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.[23]

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.[20] She developed validation software for COBOL and its compiler as part of a COBOL standardization program for the entire Navy.[20]


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.[21]: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).


Hopper being promoted to the rank of commodore in 1983

Hopper retired from the Naval Reserve at age 60, in accordance with Navy attrition regulations, with the rank of Commander at the end of 1966.[24] 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.[25]

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 (Admiral, O-7) by special Presidential appointment.[25][26][27][28] She remained on active duty for several years beyond mandatory retirement by special approval of Congress.[29] 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 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 aboard the oldest commissioned ship in the United States Navy (188 years, nine months and 23 days).[30] (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.)

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 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, cut it to 11.8 inch (30 cm) lengths, 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 allowed by US Navy uniform regulations.

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.[31]

She was interred with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. As a continuing honor of her service and accomplishments, the U.S. Naval Academy announced on September 8, 2016 that it will name its future cyber building after her.[32]




Photo of "first computer bug"

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".

Jay Elliot described Grace Hopper as appearing to be "'all Navy', but when you reach inside, you find a 'Pirate' dying to be released".[60]

Obituary notices

See also


  1. Cantrell, Mark (March 2014). "Amazing Grace: Rear Adm. Grace Hopper, USN, was a pioneer in computer science". Military Officer. 12 (3). Military Officers Association of America. pp. 52–55, 106. Retrieved March 1, 2014.
  2. The Mark I computer at Harvard University
  3. Richard L. Wexelblat, ed. (1981). History of Programming Languages. New York: Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-745040-8.
  4. Donald D. Spencer (1985). Computers and Information Processing. C.E. Merrill Publishing Co. ISBN 978-0-675-20290-9.
  5. Phillip A. Laplante (2001). Dictionary of computer science, engineering, and technology. CRC Press. ISBN 978-0-8493-2691-2.
  6. Bryan H. Bunch, Alexander Hellemans (1993). The Timetables of Technology: A Chronology of the Most Important People and Events in the History of Technology. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-671-76918-5.
  7. Bernhelm Booss-Bavnbek, Jens Høyrup (2003). Mathematics and War. Birkhäuser Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7643-1634-1.
  8. "Cyber Heroes of the past: "Amazing Grace" Hopper". Retrieved December 12, 2012.
  9. "Grace Murray Hopper". Retrieved December 12, 2012.
  10. "Hopper". Retrieved 2016-03-19.
  11. "White House honors two of tech's female pioneers". Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  12. Williams, Kathleen Broome (2004). Grace Hopper: admiral of the cyber sea. Library of naval biography. Annapolis, Md: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1557509522.
  13. Dickason, Elizabeth (April 1992). "Looking Back: Grace Murray Hopper's Younger Years". Chips.
  14. "Grace Murray Hopper (1906-1992)". National Women's History Museum. Retrieved September 1, 2014.
  15. 1 2 Green, Judy and Jeanne LaDuke (2009). Pioneering Women in American Mathematics: The Pre-1940 PhD's. Providence, Rhode Island: American Mathematical Society. ISBN 978-0821843765.
  16. Though some books, including Kurt Beyer's Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age, reported that Hopper was the first woman to earn a Yale PhD in mathematics, the first of ten women prior to 1934 was Charlotte Cynthia Barnum (1860–1934). Murray, Margaret A. M. (May–June 2010). "The first lady of math?". Yale Alumni Magazine. 73 (5). pp. 5–6. ISSN 0044-0051.
  17. G. M. Hopper and O. Ore, "New types of irreducibility criteria," Bull. Amer. Math. Soc. 40 (1934) 216
  18. 1 2 3 Ogilvie, Marilyn; Joy Harvey (2000). The biographical dictionary of women in science : pioneering lives from ancient times to the mid-20th century. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-92040-X.
  19. "Prof. Vincent Hopper of N.Y.U., Literature Teacher, Dead at 69". The New York Times. January 21, 1976.
  20. 1 2 3 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.
  21. 1 2 McGee, Russell C. (2004). My Adventure with Dwarfs: A Personal History in Mainframe Computers (PDF). University of Minnesota: Charles Babbage Institute. Retrieved May 7, 2014.
  22. "The Wit and Wisdom of Grace Hopper".
  23. Beyer, Kurt W. (2009). Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-01310-9.
  24. "Attrition/Retirement". Retrieved April 29, 2013.
  25. 1 2 3 4 "Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, USN". Biographies in Naval History. United States Navy Naval Historical Center. Retrieved May 28, 2007.
  26. "Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, USNR, (1906–1992) Informal Images taken during the 1980s". Biographies in Naval History. United States Navy Naval Historical Center. Retrieved July 2, 2013. 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
  27. "Historic Images of Ronald Reagan". U.S. Defense Department. Archived from the original on October 19, 2013. Retrieved March 7, 2016. President Ronald Reagan greets Navy Capt. Grace Hopper as she arrives at the White House for her promotion to Commodore, Dec. 15, 1983. Hopper was a computer technology pioneer.
  28. 1 2 "Late Night with David Letterman". Late Night with David Letterman. Season 5. Episode 771. New York City. October 2, 1986. NBC. "[to President Ronald Reagan on her promotion] Sir ... I'm older than you are ... YouTube title: Grace Hopper on Letterman
  29. Hacker, Barton C. (2006). American Military Technology: The Life Story of a Technology. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 131. ISBN 9780313333088.
  30. "Computer Whiz Retires from Navy". Detroit Free Press. United Press International. August 15, 1986. p. 4A.
  31. Gilbert, Lynn (December 10, 2012). Particular Passions: Grace Murray Hopper. Women of Wisdom Series (1st ed.). New York City: Lynn Gilbert Inc. ISBN 978-1-61979-403-0.
  32. Times, Navy. "Naval Academy to honor computer scientist Grace Hopper". Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  33. "DISA Recpients - Association of Information Technology Professionals". Retrieved June 28, 2016.
  34. "Honorary Degrees | University Honors | Marquette University". Retrieved August 19, 2014.
  35. "Computer Pioners". Retrieved May 17, 2014.
  36. "Western New England: From College to University A Retrospective: 1919-2011" (PDF). Western New England University. Retrieved May 21, 2014.
  37. "Grace Hopper - Computer History Museum Fellow Award Recipient". Retrieved March 30, 2015.
  38. "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter H" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 22, 2014.
  39. "The 2002 Government Technology Leadership Awards". Government Executive. April 1, 2002. Retrieved May 20, 2014.
  40. "Hopper Home Page".
  41. Robert K. Ackerman (February 2009), "Naval Intelligence Ramps up Activities", Signals, AFCEA
  42. "Grace Hopper's 107th Birthday". Google. Retrieved December 9, 2013.
  43. Matthew Sparkes (December 9, 2013). "Grace Hopper honoured with Google doodle". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved December 9, 2013.
  44. "These Are The 21 People Receiving The Nation's Highest Civilian Honor". November 16, 2016. Retrieved November 16, 2016.
  45. "Brewster Connections: Summer 2007" (PDF).
  46. "US Naval Academy Dedicates New Supercomputer".
  47. Yale News, July 18, 2008
  48. "Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing". Retrieved December 9, 2013.
  49. "Grace Hopper Academy". Retrieved 2015-10-15.
  50. "Exclusive: Grace Hopper Academy, An All-Women Coding School, To Open In New York". International Business Times. Retrieved 2015-10-15.
  51. Brading, Tom (March 13, 2012). "Women's History Month: Beyond the bridge: Story of 'Amazing Grace' Hopper". Retrieved February 12, 2013.
  52. "Inventor of the Week: Archive". Retrieved December 9, 2013.
  53. "Hopper biography". Retrieved December 9, 2013.
  54. "Biography – Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, USN". United States Navy. Retrieved December 9, 2013.
  55. "New Subdivision Names". First Robotics Corporation. 2015-02-09. Retrieved 2016-03-16.
  56. Born with Curiosity: The Grace Hopper Story at the Internet Movie Database
  57. Edison to Puskas, November 13, 1878, Edison papers, Edison National Laboratory, U.S. National Park Service, West Orange, N.J., cited in Thomas P. Hughes, American Genesis: A History of the American Genius for Invention, Penguin Books, 1989, ISBN 0-14-009741-4, on page 75.
  58. Alexander Magoun and Paul Israel (August 23, 2013). "Did You Know? Edison Coined the Term "Bug"". IEEE: The Institute. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved August 27, 2013.
  59. "Log Book With Computer Bug". National Museum of American History. Retrieved May 7, 2014.
  60. Elliott, Jay; Simon, William L. (2011). The Steve Jobs way: iLeadership for a new generation. Philadelphia: Vanguard. p. 71. ISBN 978-1-59315-639-8.

Further reading

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