Grace Murray Hopper

Grace Murray Hopper, a computer scientist from America, is a pioneer in her field and was one of Harvard Mark I computer’s first programmers. She is also responsible for developing the first ever compiler used for computer programming language. Apart from being the brains behind COBOL which is one of the first few modern programming languages, Grace Hopper is also a United States Navy Rear Admiral. Because of her achievements and contributions in the field of computer science as well as the navy, she is sometimes fondly called “Amazing Grace.”


Educational Background and Early Years

Her maiden name was Grace Brewster Murray, and she was born in New York on the ninth of December, 1906. Eldest of three siblings, she had always had a great curiosity for things. When she was seven, she had a great urge to discover how alarm clocks worked and was able to dismantle seven alarm clocks before her mother discovered what she was up to. After that incident, she was then limited to studying just one clock.

She went to New Jersey’s Hartridge School for preparatory education. She tried to enter Vassar College when she was 16 but got rejected because her grades in Latin weren’t satisfactory. She was, however, accepted the following year. In 1928, she graduated from Vassar with her bachelor’s degree from her course mathematics and physics. Two years later, she had earned her Master’s degree in the same field from Yale University.

Grace Hopper continued to further her education by earning her Ph.D. in mathematics. She was under the supervision of Øystein Ore a Norwegian mathematician famous for his graph theory. Grace Hopper worked on her Ph.D. in Yale, and got it in 1934. That same year, her dissertation entitled New Types of Irreducibility Criteria was also published. While working on her Ph.D., she had been teaching in Vassar College since 1931, and earned the promotion as associate professor 10 years later.


Her career is a long and busy one, being involved with national naval affairs and the improvement of computer technology. It was in 1943 while she was still associate professor at the Vassar College when she filed for a leave of absence to be part of the United States Navy Reserve, and was one of the women who volunteered their services for WAVES or Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.

Having graduated as the top student in her 1994 class, she was then assigned to Harvard University’s Bureau of Ships Computation Project as a junior grade lieutenant. It was then when she became part of the programming staff for Mark I computer which was headed by Howard Aiken.

While Grace Hopper wanted to be transferred to the regular Navy posts, her request was denied because she was already 38 then. She did, however, remain to serve as part of the Navy Reserve. Until 1949, Grace Hopper was part of the Harvard Computation Lab. She even turned down Vassar’s offer of a full professorship post, and instead chose to work as a researcher under Navy contract for Harvard.

It was in 1949 when she became part of the team which was developing the UNIVAC I. It was during this time when she was able to device her compiler which was then called the A compiler. The first version was called A-0.

A few years later in 1952, she was able to come up with an operational compiler, however she said that nobody believed it and that she was told that computers were only limited to doing arithmetic. Two years later, she was named Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation’s director for automatic programming, and it was her department which released the first programming languages which were compiler based. These included ARITH-MATIC, FLOW-MATIC, and MATH-MATIC.

In 1959, CODASYL or the Conference on Data Systems Languages brought together different computer experts for a 2-day conference. Hopper had been the committee’s technical consultant, and she along with her previous employees helped define COBOL. Up to this day, COmmon Business-Oriented Language or COBOL is still one of the most famous business languages.

For ten years since 1967, Grace Hopper was the Navy Programming Languages Group’s director in the Navy’s Office of Information Systems Planning. She received a promotion as captain in 1973, and during her years of service there, was able to develop a validation software which was used for COBOL.

During the 1970s, she had an advocacy where she believed the Defense Department should replace the usual large and centralized systems with smaller and more distributed computers. It was Grace Hopper who spearheaded implementing standards when it came to computer components and systems, most especially for programming languages the likes of COBOL and FORTRAN.

Recognitions and Retirement

During her long years of service, she received many awards including being the “computer sciences man of the year” given by the Data Processing Management Association, became a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society in 1973, and was given the Defense Distinguished Service Medal after her retirement in 1986.

She was 60 when she retired ranked as commander of the Naval Reserve. However, she was recalled in a year after her first retirement in 1966 to have an indefinite assignment. In 1971, she retired once more only to be called back again in 1972. In 1973 she earned the promotion as captain given by Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr.

Personal Life

During her whole lifetime, Grace Hopper was given 40 honorary degrees from different universities all over the world. Because of her work, experience, and contribution especially in the field of computer science, she had been invited numerous times as an esteemed speaker for various events related to the computer industry even after her active years of service for the navy. Apart from being known as “Amazing Grace,” another nickname she earned was “Grandma COBOL” because of her great work on COBOL’s development.

Grace Hopper had been married to Vincent Foster Hopper, a professor in New York University. They were married from 1930 but got divorced in 1945. She had never been married again and has chosen to keep her married last name.