Good morning, everyone! Today’s installment of Badass Women in History I’m going to feature someone who broke barriers not only for women but also in technology. Her name was Grace Hopper, and she was the original computer programmer for the US Navy, as well as one of its only female officers.
Grace Murray was born in 1906. She attended and graduated from Vassar College, and went on to study at Yale. She tried to enlist in the Navy during WWII, but she was rejected because she was 34 years old. She went back to teach mathematics at Vassar and enlisted in the Navy Reserve in 1943. She became a Lieutenant was put in charge of the computation project at Harvard, where she worked on the Mark I, which laid the foundation for modern computing systems. You know how we use the word “bug” when something happens to our device or computer and we can’t explain it? Grace actually coined that term when a moth flew into the components of the Mark I and fried some circuits.
In 1949 Hopper joined a computing company where she designed a machine called a compiler, which created computer codes from programmer’s commands. She retired from the Navy in 1966, but was called back to active duty so she could standardize the naval computing system. Hopper worked for the Navy for another 20 years, and finally retired (again) in 1986. By that time, she was already the oldest officer in active duty at the age of 79!
For her achievements, she was named Computer Science “Man of the Year” by Data Processing Management Association (because heaven forbid she be the WOMAN of the year, but whatever). She also received the National Medal of Technology in 1991, and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.
Grace Hopper was an amazing testament to the perseverance of women in STEM over the decades. She also is the perfect example of the old adage “age is nothing but a number,” having retired at almost 80 years of age. Had you ever heard of her? I sure hadn’t, but if anyone is a fantastic role model for girls in the fields of science, tech, engineering, and math, it’s Grace Hopper.
Thanks so much for reading, and until next time!