Friday, December 31, 2010

In History: Grace Hopper

This is the 58th post in a weekly feature here at Spare Candy, called "In History." Some posts might be little more than a photo, others full on features. If you have any suggestions for a person or event that should be featured, or would like to submit a guest post or cross post, e-mail me at rosiered23 (at) sparecandy (dot) com.

Grace Murray Hopper, born Dec. 9, 1906, was a computer scientist and a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy. She received her bachelor's degree in mathematics and physics in 1928 from Vassar College, and went on to get her master's degree and Ph.D. from Yale. A pioneer in the field, she was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, and she developed the first compiler for a computer programming language. She conceptualized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages. She is also credited with popularizing the term "debugging" for fixing computer glitches (motivated by an actual moth removed from the computer). Because of the breadth of her accomplishments and her naval rank, she is sometimes referred to as "Amazing Grace". The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Hopper (DDG-70) was named for her.

Hopper was teaching at Vassar when, in 1943, she obtained a leave of absence and was sworn in to the United States Navy Reserve, one of many women to volunteer to serve in the WAVES. She had to get an exemption to enlist; she was 15 pounds below the Navy minimum weight of 120 pounds. She trained at the Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. 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 coauthored three papers on the Mark I,II,II 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 age (38). She continued to serve in the United States 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. 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. In the spring of 1959 a two day conference known as the CODASYL brought together computer experts from industry and government. Hopper served as the technical consultant to the committee, and many of her former employees served on the short-term committee that defined the new language, COBOL. 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 the programming language COBOL and its compiler as part of a COBOL standardization program for the entire Navy.

In the 1970s, Hopper pioneered 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 retired from the Naval Reserve with the rank of Commander 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 asked to return to active duty again in 1972. She was promoted to Captain in 1973 by Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr.

After Rep. Philip Crane saw her on a March 1983 segment of 60 Minutes, he championed H.J.RES. 341, a joint resolution in the House of Representatives which led to her promotion to Commodore by special Presidential appointment. In 1985, the rank of Commodore was renamed Rear Admiral, Lower Half. She retired (involuntarily) from the Navy on August 14, 1986. At a celebration held in Boston on the USS Constitution to celebrate her retirement, Hopper was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat award possible by the Department of Defense. At the moment of her retirement, she was the oldest commissioned officer in the United States Navy (79 years, eight months and five days), and aboard the oldest commissioned ship in the United States Navy (188 years, nine months and 23 days).

Hopper was working as a senior consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation when she died on Jan. 1, 1992, at age 85. She was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery; Section 59, grave 973.

Hopper received many awards and honors in her career. From the Navy:
Defense Distinguished Service ribbon.svg Defense Distinguished Service Medal
Legion of Merit ribbon.svg Legion of Merit
Meritorious Service ribbon.svg Meritorious Service Medal
American Campaign Medal ribbon.svg American Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal ribbon.svg World War II Victory Medal
National Defense Service Medal ribbon.svg National Defense Service Medal
AFRM with Hourglass Device (Silver).jpg Armed Forces Reserve Medal with two Hourglass Devices
Naval Reserve Medal ribbon.svg Naval Reserve Medal

Other awards and honors:
  • 1969 – She won the inaugural "computer sciences man of the year" award from the Data Processing Management Association.[14]
  • 1971 – The annual Grace Murray Hopper Award for Outstanding Young Computer Professionals was established in 1971 by the Association for Computing Machinery.
  • 1973 – She became the first person from the United States and the first woman of any nationality to be made a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society.
  • 1986 – Upon her retirement she received the Defense Distinguished Service Medal.
  • 1987 – She became a Computer History Museum Fellow Award Recipient.
  • 1988 – She received the Golden Gavel Award at the Toastmasters International convention in Washington, DC.
  • 1991 – She received the National Medal of Technology.
  • 1996 – USS Hopper (DDG-70) was launched. Nicknamed Amazing Grace, it is on a very short list of U.S. military vessels named after women.
  • 2001 – Eavan Boland wrote a poem dedicated to Grace Hopper titled "Code" in her 2001 release "Against Love Poetry"
  • 2009 – The Department of Energy's National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center named its flagship system "Hopper".
  • The Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center is located at 7 Grace Hopper Avenue in Monterey, California.
  • Grace Murray Hopper Park, located on South Joyce Street in Arlington, Virginia, is a small memorial park in front of her former residence (River House Apartments) and is now owned by Arlington County, Virginia.
  • Women at the world's largest software company, Microsoft Corporation, formed an employee group called Hoppers and established a scholarship in her honor. Hoppers has over 3,000 members worldwide.
  • 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. 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, Md., is named the Grace Hopper Building in her honor.
  • Building 1482 aboard Naval Air Station North Island, housing the Naval Computer and Telecommunication Station San Diego, is named the Grace Hopper Building.
  • Grace Hopper's legacy was an inspiring factor in the creation of the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. Held yearly, this conference is designed to bring the research and career interests of women in computing to the forefront. www.gracehopper.org
You can read more about Grace Hopper at Naval History and Heritage and Agnes Scott College, and many other sites on the Internet.


Photo source 1; photo source 2

1 comment:

Lucy V said...

Wow! Just, wow. Amazing woman.

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