Grace Hopper was a true trailblazer of computer programming, whose achievements earned her the monikers ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘the first lady of software’.
Born in 1906 in New York City, Hopper was a curious child, frequently dismantling alarm clocks to uncover how they work. She was admitted to study maths and physics at Vassar in 1928, and went on to earn a PhD in maths from Yale.
Following graduation, Hopper began teaching maths at Vassar. During WW1, she applied for a position in the Navy, but was turned down, and so instead opted to work as a US Navy Reserve. Shortly after this, Hopper began working at the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation as a mathematician.
She was tasked with working on the UNIVAC I: the first large-scale electronic computer available on the market. Hopper worked on a programming language for the computer, which used English language rather than symbols. This was a revolutionary idea at the time, and many people thought it impossible to programme a computer with English words. But before long, Hopper’s ideas had led to COBOL, a new computer language that is still in use today.
Hopper brought her programming experience over to a new role working within the US Navy’s Information Systems Planning department. She quickly rose through the ranks, eventually becoming a rear admiral.
Hopper retired in 1986 at the age of 79, making her one of the Navy’s oldest-serving officers on active duty. She went on to work as a business consultant, speaking regularly at events about her pivotal role in the early days of computing.
In 1992, Grace Hopper died in her sleep at the age of 85, but her stellar record of achievements continued even after her death. In 2012, Hopper was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, and her legacy continues to inspire.
Last updated: 21 February 2018