Rear Admiral Dr. Grace Murray Hopper led the development of programming languages for the first computers.
Grace Brewster Murray was born on December 9, 1906 in New York City. In 1928 she graduated from Vassar College with a BA in mathematics and physics and joined the Vassar faculty.
While an instructor at Vassar, she continued her studies in mathematics at Yale University, where she earned an MA in 1930 and a PhD in 1934. In 1930, she married Vincent Foster Hopper. (The couple divorced in 1945.) In 1943, she joined the United States Naval Reserve to assist her country in its wartime challenges.
In 1946, she resigned from Vassar to become a research fellow in engineering and applied physics at Harvard's Computation Laboratory. In 1949 she joined the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation as a Senior Mathematician. Admiral Hopper took military leave from this corporation from 1967 until her retirement in 1971. Perseverance was one of the personality traits that made Grace Murray Hopper a great leader.
When she came to the Cruft Laboratory, she immediately encountered the Mark I computer. She became the third person to program the Mark I. She received the Naval Ordnance Development Award for her pioneering applications programming success on the Mark I, Mark II, and Mark III computers. Throughout her years in academia and industry, Grace was a consultant and lecturer for the United States Naval Reserve.
This video of Grace Hopper on the Late Show with David Letterman was recorded in late 1986.
After a seven-month retirement, she returned to active duty in the Navy in 1967 as a leader in the Naval Data Automation Command. Upon her retirement from the Navy in 1986 with the rank of Rear Admiral, she immediately became a senior consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation, and remained there several years, working well into her eighties.
Admiral Hopper believed that the major obstacle to computers in non-scientific and business applications was the dearth of programmers for these far from user-friendly new machines. The key to opening up new worlds to computing, she knew, was the development and refinement of programming languages - languages that could be understood and used by people who were neither mathematicians nor computer experts. It took several years for her to demonstrate that this idea was feasible.
Grace Murray Hopper died in her sleep in Arlington, Virginia on January 1, 1992. During her academic, industry, and military tenure, Admiral Hopper's numerous talents were apparent. She had outstanding technical skills, was a whiz at marketing, repeatedly demonstrated her business and political acumen, and never gave up on her good ideas.
Read Grace Hopper's entry in the National Academies' Memorial Tributes: Volume 6.