GRACE HOPPER Biography - Famous Scientists


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Born: New York, New York, December 9, 1906                                                   
Died: Arlington, Virginia, January 1, 1992                                                   
The new discipline of computing and the sciences that depend upon it have led                 
the way in making space for women's participation on an equal basis. That was in             
some ways true for Grace Murray Hopper, and it is all the more true for women                 
today because of Hopper's work.                                                               
Grace Brewster Murray graduated from Vassar with a B.A. in mathematics in 1928               
and worked under algebraist Oystein Ore at Yale for her M.A. (1930) and Ph.D. (1934).         
She married Vincent Foster Hopper, an educator, in 1930 and began teaching                   
mathematics at Vassar in 1931. She had achieved the rank of associate professor               
in 1941 when she won a faculty fellowship for study at New York University's                 
Courant Institute for Mathematics.                                                           
Hopper had come from a family with military traditions, thus it was not                       
surprising to anyone when she resigned her Vassar post to join the Navy WAVES (Women         
Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) in December 1943. She was commissioned             
a lieutenant in July 1944 and reported to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation                 
Project at Harvard University, where she was the third person to join the                     
research team of professor (and Naval Reserve lieutenant) Howard H. Aiken. She               
recalled that he greeted her with the words, "Where the hell have you been?" and             
pointed to his electromechanical Mark I computing machine, saying "Here, compute             
the coefficients of the arc tangent series by next Thursday."                                 
Hopper plunged in and learned to program the machine, putting together a 500-page             
Manual of Operations for the Automatic Sequence-Controlled Calculator in which               
she outlined the fundamental operating principles of computing machines. By the               
end of World War II in 1945, Hopper was working on the Mark II version of the                 
machine. Although her marriage was dissolved at this point, and though she had               
no children, she did not resume her maiden name. Hopper was appointed to the                 
Harvard faculty as a research fellow, and in 1949 she joined the newly formed                 
Eckert-Mauchly Corporation.                                                                   
Hopper never again held only one job at a time. She remained associated with                 
Eckert-Mauchly and its successors (Remington-Rand, Sperry-Rand, and Univac)                   
until her official "retirement" in 1971. Her work took her back and forth among               
institutions in the military, private industry, business, and academe. In                     
December 1983 she was promoted to commodore in a ceremony at the White House.                 
When the post of commodore was merged with that of rear admiral, two years later,             
she became Admiral Hopper. She was one of the first software engineers and,                   
indeed, one of the most incisive strategic "futurists" in the world of computing.             
Perhaps her best-known contribution to computing was the invention of the                     
compiler, the intermediate program that translates English language instructions             
into the language of the target computer. She did this, she said, because she                 
was lazy and hoped that "the programmer may return to being a mathematician."                 
Her work embodied or foreshadowed enormous numbers of developments that are now               
the bones of digital computing: subroutines, formula translation, relative                   
addressing, the linking loader, code optimization, and even symbolic                         
manipulation of the kind embodied in Mathematica and Maple.                                   
Throughout her life, it was her service to her country of which she was most                 
proud. Appropriately, Admiral Hopper was buried with full Naval honors at                     
Arlington National Cemetery on January 7, 1992.