women in navy

Grace Hopper (1906-1992), sometimes referred to as ‘Amazing Grace’, was a computer scientist and an Admiral in the US Navy. In 1944, she invented the first compiler for a computer programming language.

She earned her master’s and PhD in mathematics from Yale, and began teaching at Vassar in 1931. She was part of the US Navy Reserve during World War II, all while working for the Harvard Computation Lab, where she was part of the Mark I computer programming project. She remained on active duty well beyond the retirement age, becoming the oldest active-duty officer in the history of the Navy, at 79 years of age.

Grace Hopper is an American computer scientist and United States Navy rear admiral. She had tried to enlist in the Navy early in WWII but was denied due to her age (34), her low weight-to-height ratio, and on the basis that her job as a mathematician‍ at Vassar was valuable to the war effort. Hopper eventually obtained a leave of absence from Vassar and was sworn into the United States Navy Reserve, one of many women to volunteer to serve in the WAVES. In 1944, Hopper served on the Mark I computer programming staff at Harvard as a lieutenant, junior grade, coauthoring three papers on the Mark I. In 1949, she proposed that a new programming language be developed using entirely English words but her idea was quickly dismissed. In 1952, she had an operational compiler, known as the A-0. “Nobody believed that,” she said. “I had a running compiler and nobody would touch it. They told me computers could only do arithmetic.” Hopper’s belief that programs should be written in a language that was close to English (rather than in machine code) led to the development of COBOL in 1959, one of the first high-level programming languages. She remained on active duty for many years beyond mandatory retirement by special approval of Congress and in 1985, her rank of commodore was renamed rear admiral, making her one of the Navy’s few female admirals. Owing to her accomplishments and her naval rank, she was sometimes referred to as “Amazing Grace”. On November 22, 2016, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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