A mathematics genius and computer pioneer, Grace Hopper created computer programming technology that forever changed the flow of information and paved the way for modern data processing.
Hopper earned her B.A. in mathematics and physics from Vassar College and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Yale. Hopper began her professional career teaching mathematics at Vassar College, and remained there until the early 1940s.
In 1943, wanting to aid her country during World War II, Hopper joined the United States Navy. She was soon assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University, where she began her legacy of groundbreaking computer programming with the Mark I, a precursor to electronic computers. Hopper became a faculty member at Harvard’s computation laboratory in 1946 and continued her programming work with the Mark II and Mark III computers.
Believing that a much wider audience could operate a computer if it was more user-friendly and more programmer-friendly, Hopper joined the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation (later the Sperry Corporation) in 1949. There, she worked on the UNIVAC I, the first commercial electronic computer. In 1952, Hopper was credited with creating the first compiler for modern computers, a program that translates instructions written by a programmer into codes that can be read by a computer. Hopper went on to develop the FLOW-MATIC computer programming language (1957) and shortly after, pioneered the Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL).
Hopper retired from the Navy in 1986 as a Rear Admiral, the first woman to hold the rank. She continued her career as a consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation, where she worked until her death in 1992.
Throughout her lifetime, Hopper received many awards and commendations. In 1969, the Data Processing Management Association awarded her the first computer sciences Man of the Year Award, and in 1973, she became the first person from the U.S. and first woman from any country to be recognized as a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society. Hopper was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 1991 for her “pioneering accomplishments in the development of computer programming languages that simplified computer technology and opened the door to a significantly larger universe of users.”