Few women today earn degrees in computer science, according to Catalyst. Despite this low number, computer science has a mother – not a father – who opened up several opportunities for women today and earned a spot in the National Women’s Hall of Fame: Grace Murray Hopper.
Yale University President Peter Salovey recently changed the name of Calhoun College to Grace Hopper College in September in honor of Hopper, who earned her doctorate degree at Yale. Her nephew, Roger Murray III, recognized her accomplishments during an official renaming celebration.
“It is significant that Yale is honoring a woman who is a pioneer in the computer field when, even today, there are still some who doubt women’s abilities in this area,” Murray said.
Hopper wanted to join the U.S. military, according to the BBC, but women could not fight alongside men at the time of the early 20th century. The Navy needed female mathematicians because they could calculate target distance, temperature, humidity, wind speed, and direction.
Six women developed the first digital computer program – ENIAC. Back then, many computer mathematicians were female, not solely because they received less pay, but also because many women had strong backgrounds in mathematics.
Hopper originally taught as an associate professor at Vassar College, but she joined Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) in December 1943, became a Lieutenant, and was assigned to Harvard University’s Bureau of Ships Computation Project, according to PBS. During this time, she worked with a team of “computers” to program and write the instruction manual for Mark I – one of the earliest electromagnetic computers – work on top-secret calculations with her team, and compute calculations for the army, Yale News states.
After the war, Hopper returned to Harvard as a professor, where she became a research fellow in engineering sciences and applied physics. As a professor, Hopper helped develop Mark II and III, while Harvard received funding contracts from the Navy. After eventually leaving Harvard and the Navy because they would not give her full-time positions, Hopper accepted a job at Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation in Philadelphia – which later became Remington Rand – as a senior mathematician.
Hopper originally retired from the Navy in 1966, but she was recalled and served for another 19 years, according to Biography. She officially retired in 1976 as the first female Rear Admiral and the oldest serving officer.
Today, the world still recognizes Hopper’s contributions in several ways, such as when Google made a doodle in 2013 in honor of the 107th anniversary of Hopper’s birthday. The Grace Murray Hopper Award, established in her memory, recognizes an outstanding computer professional of the year based on technical or service contributions, and comes with a $35,000 prize from Microsoft. Both women and men can receive this award.
In addition, numerous women gather at AnitaB’s annual Grace Hopper Celebration, which features prominent women in the computer science industry, including Melinda Gates, Ayanna Howard, Fei-Fei Li, and Mary Spio.
Former President Barack Obama also posthumously awarded Hopper with a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.
“From cell phones to cyber command, we can thank Grace Hopper for opening programming to millions more people, helping to usher in the Information Age, and profoundly shaping our digital world,” Obama said in a speech.
As a result of her accomplishments, Hopper has provided several pathways for women in computer science and shown that women, too, can successfully pursue technological careers.
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