Grace Murray Hopper was a twentieth century American mathematician and computer scientist. She was a force to be reckoned with as she was a United States Navy rear admiral. Moreover, she is credited for inventing the first compiler for a computer programming language, and was also one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer. Machine-independent programming languages was her idea that went viral paving way for the first high-level programming language, COBOL. Given her prestigious rank in Navy and unprecedented achievements she was referred to as “Amazing Grace” by many.
Grace Brewster Murray Hopper was born on December 9, 1906 in New York City, New York. Her parents were European of Scottish and Dutch descent. Her forefathers also took part in the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War working for US Navy. Grace was an extremely curious child and that lifelong characteristic of hers proved beneficial in her accomplishments. At a young age of seven she dismantled several alarm clocks to determine its working mechanism.
She received her early education from the Hartridge School in Plainfield. She applied for an early admission to Vassar College at the age of 16 but was refused on the grounds of lower grade in Latin test. However, she was enrolled the next year to study mathematics and physics. She was graduated a Phi Beta Kappa earning a Bachelor’s degree in 1928 while she obtained her Master’s from the prestigious Yale University. She completed her doctoral studies in mathematics from Yale in 1934. She also published her doctoral dissertation, titled New Types of Irreducibility Criteria.
In 1931, Grace was appointed a lecturer of mathematics at Vassar and in a decade progressed to associate professor. She got married in 1930 to Vincent Foster Hopper, a New York University professor. They remained married for fifteen years until they finalized their divorce in 1945. She kept the surname even after the divorce and stayed unmarried the remainder of her life. At the age of 34, she tried enlisting herself in the Navy. Owing to her unfit body mass index and her job as a mathematician at Vasaar, she was refused. She resigned from her job and volunteered to serve in the WAVES. She had to obtain an exemption on account of her being underweight. She took her naval training at Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School at Smith College and graduated first. Upon her graduation, she was assigned as a lieutenant, to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University.
Furthermore, Grace joined as a senior mathematician at the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation. While working there, she suggested that English as a new programming language should be developed. It was rejected as it was a novel idea because computer did not understand English, it understood binary code. It took her three years to get her idea accepted and in 1952 she published her first paper on compilers.
Grace was awarded several medals and progressed numerous ranks during her U.S Navy services. She was ranked Rear Admiral and received a Defense Distinguished Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Naval Reserve medal among many other medals. USS Hopper a guided missile was named after her and a supercomputer at NERSC was called ‘Hopper’. In addition to that, her services were honored posthumously by the former president, Barack Obama when she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.