Prior to joining the Navy, Hopper earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University and was a professor of mathematics at Vassar College. Hopper attempted to enlist in the Navy during World War II but was rejected because she was 34 years old. She instead joined the Navy Reserves. Hopper began her computing career in 1944 when she worked on the Harvard Mark I team led by Howard H. Aiken. In 1949, she joined the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation and was part of the team that developed the UNIVAC I computer. At Eckert–Mauchly she began developing the linker. She believed that a programming language based on English was possible. Her linker converted English terms into machine code understood by computers. By 1952, Hopper had finished her program linker (originally called a compiler), which was written for the A-0 System. During her wartime service, she co-authored three papers based on her work on the Harvard Mark 1.
In 1954, Eckert–Mauchly chose Hopper to lead their department for automatic programming, and she led the release of some of the first compiled languages like FLOW-MATIC. In 1959, she participated in the CODASYL consortium, which consulted Hopper to guide them in creating a machine-independent programming language. This led to the COBOL language, which was inspired by her idea of a language being based on English words. In 1966, she retired from the Naval Reserve, but in 1967 the Navy recalled her to active duty. She retired from the Navy in 1986 and found work as a consultant for the Digital Equipment Corporation, sharing her computing experiences.
Grace was very curious as a child; this was a lifelong trait. At the age of seven, she decided to determine how an alarm clock worked and dismantled seven alarm clocks before her mother realized what she was doing (she was then limited to one clock). For her preparatory school education, she attended the Hartridge School in Plainfield, New Jersey. Hopper was initially rejected for early admission to Vassar College at age 16 (her test scores in Latin were too low), but she was admitted the following year. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar in 1928 with a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics and earned her master's degree at Yale University in 1930.
In 1934, she earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale under the direction of Øystein Ore. Her dissertation, "New Types of Irreducibility Criteria", was published that same year. Hopper began teaching mathematics at Vassar in 1931, and was promoted to associate professor in 1941.
She was married to New York University professor Vincent Foster Hopper (1906–1976) from 1930 until their divorce in 1945. She did not marry again, but chose to retain his surname.
World War II
Hopper's signatures on a duty officer signup sheet for the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard, which built and operated the Mark I
Hopper had tried to enlist in the Navy early in World War II. She was rejected for a few reasons. At age 34, she was too old to enlist, and her weight to height ratio was too low. She was also denied on the basis that her job as a mathematician and mathematics professor at Vassar College was valuable to the war effort. During the war in 1943, Hopper obtained a leave of absence from Vassar and was sworn into the United States Navy Reserve; she was one of many women who volunteered to serve in the WAVES. She had to get an exemption to enlist; she was 15 pounds (6.8 kg) below the Navy minimum weight of 120 pounds (54 kg). She reported in December and trained at the Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Hopper graduated first in her class in 1944, and was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University as a lieutenant, junior grade. She served on the Mark I computer programming staff headed by Howard H. Aiken. Hopper and Aiken co-authored three papers on the Mark I, also known as the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator. Hopper's request to transfer to the regular Navy at the end of the war was declined due to her advanced age of 38. She continued to serve in the Navy Reserve. Hopper remained at the Harvard Computation Lab until 1949, turning down a full professorship at Vassar in favor of working as a research fellow under a Navy contract at Harvard.
In 1949, Hopper became an employee of the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation as a senior mathematician and joined the team developing the UNIVAC I. Hopper also served as UNIVAC director of Automatic Programming Development for Remington Rand. The UNIVAC was the first known large-scale electronic computer to be on the market in 1950, and was more competitive at processing information than the Mark I.
When Hopper recommended the development of a new programming language that would use entirely English words, she "was told very quickly that [she] couldn't do this because computers didn't understand English." Still, she persisted. "It's much easier for most people to write an English statement than it is to use symbols," she explained. "So I decided data processors ought to be able to write their programs in English, and the computers would translate them into machine code."
Her idea was not accepted for three years. In the meantime, she published her first paper on the subject, compilers, in 1952. In the early 1950s, the company was taken over by the Remington Rand corporation, and it was while she was working for them that her original compiler work was done. The program was known as the A compiler and its first version was A-0.:11
In 1952, she had an operational link-loader, which at the time was referred to as a compiler. She later said that "Nobody believed that," and that she "had a running compiler and nobody would touch it. They told me computers could only do arithmetic." She goes on to say that her compiler "translated mathematical notation into machine code. Manipulating symbols was fine for mathematicians but it was no good for data processors who were not symbol manipulators. Very few people are really symbol manipulators. If they are they become professional mathematicians, not data processors. It's much easier for most people to write an English statement than it is to use symbols. So I decided data processors ought to be able to write their programs in English, and the computers would translate them into machine code. That was the beginning of COBOL, a computer language for data processors. I could say 'Subtract income tax from pay' instead of trying to write that in octal code or using all kinds of symbols. COBOL is the major language used today in data processing."
In 1954 Hopper was named the company's first director of automatic programming, and her department released some of the first compiler-based programming languages, including MATH-MATIC and FLOW-MATIC.
In the spring of 1959, computer experts from industry and government were brought together in a two-day conference known as the Conference on Data Systems Languages (CODASYL). Hopper served as a technical consultant to the committee, and many of her former employees served on the short-term committee that defined the new language COBOL (an acronym for COmmon Business-Oriented Language). The new language extended Hopper's FLOW-MATIC language with some ideas from the IBM equivalent, COMTRAN. Hopper's belief that programs should be written in a language that was close to English (rather than in machine code or in languages close to machine code, such as assembly languages) was captured in the new business language, and COBOL went on to be the most ubiquitous business language to date. Among the members of the committee that worked on COBOL was Mount Holyoke College alumnus Jean E. Sammet.
From 1967 to 1977, Hopper served as the director of the Navy Programming Languages Group in the Navy's Office of Information Systems Planning and was promoted to the rank of captain in 1973. She developed validation software for COBOL and its compiler as part of a COBOL standardization program for the entire Navy.
In the 1970s, Hopper advocated for the Defense Department to replace large, centralized systems with networks of small, distributed computers. Any user on any computer node could access common databases located on the network.:119 She developed the implementation of standards for testing computer systems and components, most significantly for early programming languages such as FORTRAN and COBOL. The Navy tests for conformance to these standards led to significant convergence among the programming language dialects of the major computer vendors. In the 1980s, these tests (and their official administration) were assumed by the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), known today as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
Hopper being promoted to the rank of commodore in 1983
In accordance with Navy attrition regulations, Hopper retired from the Naval Reserve with the rank of commander at age 60 at the end of 1966. She was recalled to active duty in August 1967 for a six-month period that turned into an indefinite assignment. She again retired in 1971 but was again asked to return to active duty in 1972. She was promoted to captain in 1973 by AdmiralElmo R. Zumwalt, Jr.
Following a career that spanned more than 42 years, Admiral Hopper took retirement from the Navy on August 14, 1986. At a celebration held in Boston on the USS Constitution to commemorate her retirement, Hopper was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat decoration awarded by the Department of Defense.
At the time of her retirement, she was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the United States Navy (79 years, eight months and five days), and had her retirement ceremony aboard the oldest commissioned ship in the United States Navy (188 years, nine months and 23 days). (Admirals William D. Leahy, Chester W. Nimitz, Hyman G. Rickover and Charles Stewart were the only other officers in the Navy's history to serve on active duty at a higher age. Leahy and Nimitz served on active duty for life due to their promotions to the rank of fleet admiral.)
Following her retirement from the Navy, she was hired as a senior consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). Hopper was initially offered a position by Rita Yavinsky, but she insisted on going through the typical formal interview process. She then proposed in jest that she would be willing to accept a position which made her available on alternating Thursdays, exhibited at their museum of computing as a pioneer, in exchange for a generous salary and unlimited expense account. Instead, she was hired as a full-time senior consultant. In this position, Hopper represented the company at industry forums, serving on various industry committees, along with other obligations. She retained that position until her death at age 85 in 1992.
At DEC Hopper served primarily as a goodwill ambassador. She lectured widely about the early days of computing, her career, and on efforts that computer vendors could take to make life easier for their users. She visited most of Digital's engineering facilities, where she generally received a standing ovation at the conclusion of her remarks. Although no longer a serving officer, she always wore her Navy full dress uniform to these lectures in defiance of U.S. Department of Defense policy.
"The most important thing I've accomplished, other than building the compiler," she said, "is training young people." They come to me, you know, and say, 'Do you think we can do this?' I say, 'Try it.' And I back 'em up. They need that. I keep track of them as they get older and I stir 'em up at intervals so they don't forget to take chances."
Throughout much of her later career, Hopper was much in demand as a speaker at various computer-related events. She was well known for her lively and irreverent speaking style, as well as a rich treasury of early war stories. She also received the nickname "Grandma COBOL".
Grace Hopper is famous for her nanoseconds visual aid. People (such as generals and admirals) used to ask her why satellite communication took so long. She started handing out pieces of wire that were just under one foot long (11.8 inches (30 cm))—the distance that light travels in one nanosecond. She gave these pieces of wire the metonym "nanoseconds." She was careful to tell her audience that the length of her nanoseconds was actually the maximum speed the signals would travel in a vacuum, and that signals would travel more slowly through the actual wires that were her teaching aids. Later she used the same pieces of wire to illustrate why computers had to be small to be fast. At many of her talks and visits, she handed out "nanoseconds" to everyone in the audience, contrasting them with a coil of wire 984 feet (300 meters) long, representing a microsecond. Later, while giving these lectures while working for DEC, she passed out packets of pepper, calling the individual grains of ground pepper picoseconds.
Jay Elliot described Grace Hopper as appearing to be "'all Navy', but when you reach inside, you find a 'Pirate' dying to be released".
On New Year's Day 1992, Hopper died in her sleep of natural causes at her home in Arlington, Virginia; she was 85 years of age. She was interred with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.
1964: Hopper was awarded the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award, the Society's highest honor, "In recognition of her significant contributions to the burgeoning computer industry as an engineering manager and originator of automatic programming systems." In May 1955, Hopper was one of the founding members of the Society of Women Engineers
1986: Received the Defense Distinguished Service Medal at her retirement.
1986: Received an Honorary Doctor of Science from Syracuse University.
1987: She became the first Computer History Museum Fellow Award Recipient "for contributions to the development of programming languages, for standardization efforts, and for lifelong naval service."
2013: Google made the Google Doodle for Hopper's 107th birthday an animation of her sitting at a computer, using COBOL to print out her age. At the end of the animation, a moth flies out of the computer.
Brewster Academy, a school located in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, United States, dedicated their computer lab to her in 1985, calling it the Grace Murray Hopper Center for Computer Learning. The academy bestows a Grace Murray Hopper Prize to a graduate who excelled in the field of computer systems. Hopper had spent her childhood summers at a family home in Wolfeboro.
An administration building on Naval Support Activity Annapolis (previously known as Naval Station Annapolis) in Annapolis, Maryland is named the Grace Hopper Building in her honor.
Vice Admiral Walter E. "Ted" Carter announced on September 8, 2016 at the Athena Conference that the Naval Academy's newest Cyber Operations building would be named Hopper Hall after Admiral Grace Hopper. This is the first building at any service academy named after a woman. In his words, Grace Hopper was "the admiral of the cyber seas."
The US Naval Academy also owns a Cray XC-30 supercomputer named "Grace," hosted at the University of Maryland-College Park.
Building 1482 aboard Naval Air Station North Island, housing the Naval Computer and Telecommunication Station San Diego, is named the Grace Hopper Building, and also contains the History of Naval Communications Museum.
The street outside of the Nathan Deal Georgia Cyber Innovation and Training Center in Augusta, Georgia, is named Grace Hopper Lane.
Grace Hopper Academy is a for-profit immersive programming school in New York City named in Grace Hopper's honor. It opened in January 2016 with the goal of increasing the proportion of women in software engineering careers.
^Though some books, including Kurt Beyer's Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age, reported that Hopper was the first woman to earn a Yale PhD in mathematics, the first of ten women prior to 1934 was Charlotte Cynthia Barnum (1860–1934). Murray, Margaret A. M. (May–June 2010). "The first lady of math?". Yale Alumni Magazine. 73 (5). pp. 5–6. ISSN0044-0051.
^ ab"Historic Images of Ronald Reagan". U.S. Defense Department. Archived from the original on October 19, 2013. Retrieved March 7, 2016. President Ronald Reagan greets Navy Capt. Grace Hopper as she arrives at the White House for her promotion to Commodore, Dec. 15, 1983. Hopper was a computer technology pioneer
^ ab"Late Night with David Letterman". Late Night with David Letterman. Season 5. Episode 771. New York City. October 2, 1986. NBC. "[to President Ronald Reagan on her promotion] Sir ... I'm older than you are ... YouTube title: Grace Hopper on Letterman
^Edison to Puskas, November 13, 1878, Edison papers, Edison National Laboratory, U.S. National Park Service, West Orange, N.J., cited in Thomas P. Hughes, American Genesis: A History of the American Genius for Invention, Penguin Books, 1989, ISBN0-14-009741-4, on page 75.
Beyer, Kurt W. (September 30, 2009). Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age (1st ed.). Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press. ISBN978-0-262-01310-9.
Marx, Christy (August 2003). Grace Hopper: the first woman to program the first computer in the United States. Women hall of famers in mathematics and science (1st ed.). New York City: Rosen Publishing Group. ISBN978-0-8239-3877-3.
Williams, Kathleen Broome (November 15, 2004). Grace Hopper: Admiral of the Cyber Sea (1st ed.). Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN978-1-55750-952-9.
Williams, Kathleen Broome (2001). Improbable Warriors: Women Scientists and the U.S. Navy in World War II. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. ISBN978-1-55750-961-1. Williams' book focuses on the lives and contributions of four notable women scientists: Mary Sears (1905–1997); Florence van Straten (1913–1992); Grace Murray Hopper (1906–1992); Mina Spiegel Rees (1902–1997).
Ignotofsky, Rachel (2017). Women in Science: 50 fearless pioneers who changed the world. London: Wren & Rook. ISBN978-1-9848-5615-9.