Grace Hopper is an American legend and trailblazer. With the current wave of organizations and individuals engaging young girls to get into various STEM industries, her life and career are holding even more significance for a whole new generation of women and girls. She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 by then-POTUS Barack Obama, where her grand-niece Deborah Murray accepted the medal on her behalf.
“If Wright is flight, and Edison is light, then Hopper is code,” President Obama said during the ceremony, where fellow STEM pioneer Margaret Hamilton, the women who wrote the code used by the successful Apollo 11 mission in 1969.
In January 2015, a short documentary on the life of “Amazing Grace” as she was called, directed by ‘Community’ actress Gillian Jacobs, was released as part of FiveThirtyEight’s ‘Signals’ series, which you can watch in full here. It is called ‘Queen of Code’.
But just who was Grace Hopper and how did she battle against gender barriers in society as well as the military to become the legend she is today? Ivy league PhD graduate. Mathematician. High ranking, decorated Naval officer. Software Developer. Computer Programmer. Admiral Grace Murray Hopper earned all these titles and more throughout her career.
Spanning over the course of 60 years, Hopper became not only a trailblazer for women in tech, but an innovator in the many fields in which she practiced. She was born in New York City in 1906, earned her PhD in mathematics from Yale in 1934.
Her most important contributions, however, are those in computing. Hopper and her team were integral to the development of computers. Grace is most well-known and celebrated for her role in the military and the field of computing. However, her accomplishments live on in our everyday lives as well. Grace was assigned by the U.S. Navy to help build the first computer in America, Mark I, a year after she enlisted.
This computer was eight feet high and 51 feet long. Grace then went on to work on Mark II and UNIVAC I, the first commercially produced computer. During her time with UNIVAC I, she developed the first ever electronic computer compiler, which transformed complex source code into binary code. In 1959, she assisted in the development of COBOL, an easily understandable computer language for business computer software.
Grace became so integral to the Navy that she retired and was called to return to duty twice at the ages of 61 and 65. Following her final retirement from the Navy, Hopper appeared on David Letterman in 1986. She was received with a standing ovation from the audience for her famous demonstration of a nanosecond in which she asks Letterman to hold an 11.8 inch piece of cable to show the length electricity can travel in a nanosecond. Letterman referred to her as “the Queen of Software.”
She retired for the last time at age 79 with a rank of Rear Admiral – Lower Half and and a total of eight military awards.
After her death in 1992, the Grace Hopper Celebration conference was born. The annual conference is a three-day event which takes place every October. The conference celebrates women in computing and the contributions women have made to this field throughout history. The first military academy building named after a woman, Hopper Hall, is set to be completed in 2019. The building will be a cyber facility, in honor of Grace’s career as a computer scientist.
It’s clear that Admiral Hopper’s role in computer science and the American military make her one of the most important historical figures of her generation and a shining example of the role women have played in history’s most important technological advancements.
The below infographic, “The Life of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper,” was created by Storagepipe Solutions to shine a light on Hopper’s long career and the importance of her work.