Free Enterprise Staff  | March 11, 2016

Amazing Grace: The Woman Who Transformed Computer Science

During each week of  Women’s History Month, we will honor a female entrepreneur who has made an important contribution to American society. This week’s feature is Grace Hopper – computer scientist and U.S. Navy Rear Admiral.

Imagine life without the Internet. There would be no smart phones, no Twitter, no email. Sounds pretty bleak, right? Well, thanks to Grace Hopper, we don’t have to live in that world. Hopper, a computer scientist who was a pioneer in programming and coding, dedicated her work to developing a user-friendly computer that would ultimately lay the groundwork for the many devices we use today.

Born in 1906, Hopper graduated from Vassar College in 1928 and went on to receive her PhD in mathematics from Yale University in 1934. After working as a professor for many years, Hopper joined the U.S. Navy Reserve in 1943. Graduating first in her class from the Reserve, she was assigned to work at Harvard University on the Mark I computer. During her time there, she worked to develop two of the first compiler-based programming languages, MATH-MATIC and FLOW-MATIC.

Hopper retired from the U.S. Navy Reserve in 1966, but returned because of an indefinite assignment in 1967. During this time, she was promoted to Captain and then to Rear Admiral. At the time of her final retirement in 1986, Hopper was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy and was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal. After the Navy, she consulted until she died in 1992.

Awarded forty honorary degrees from various universities during her career, and was known as “Amazing Grace” by many of her colleagues. Hopper’s innovative work in computer science led to the creation of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, a yearly conference to bring together women in the computing field. There are also numerous computing scholarships in Hopper’s name.