In the late 1980s, early in my educational technology career, I attended a one-day conference about technology in schools. Held in a hotel in the Washington, DC area — I don’t remember which one — the conference convened a small number of teachers, identified as early adopters, people from that National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, what seemed hundreds of technology consultants from places like Cambridge, Palo Alto, and various state universities, and one older, somewhat fragile woman far ahead in the front of the room, who attended for a short time.
That was my first encounter with the life of retired Admiral Grace Hopper. She lived for only a few more years after that, passing away at the age of 85, but I remember her face, her eagle-eyed attention, and the reverence with which others in the room regarded her.
Yale University has decided to change the name of its residential Calhoun College to Grace Hopper College, honoring the computer scientist who played a significant role in moving the country (and the world) into the age of technology and who became a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy. Hopper received a master’s degree and PhD in mathematics from Yale and was one of the mathematicians who programmed some of the earliest computers before and during World War II.
She also participated with other women mathematicians in a project calculating rocket and and anti-aircraft trajectories, a secret project during the War. Read my post Top Secret Rosies: Female Mathematicians During World War II to learn more about what female mathematicians accomplished. She also worked on ENIAC, the first electronic computer that booted up in 1946, and on countless other projects. One of her big goals was to make programming languages more understandable to people who were not computer scientists, and she is responsible for the first use in a computer context of the words bug and debug.
In the Navy, she was sometimes called “Amazing Grace” Hopper. Biographies about Admiral Hopper include Grace Hopper: Admiral of the Cyber Sea and Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age, both available in Kindle editions. Also, Walter Isaacson in his book The Innovators shares stories of Grace Hopper, her vision, and her achievement. More about Admiral Grace Hopper’s legacy is shared in The Yale News article Grace Murray Hopper: A Legacy of Innovation and Service.
A new biography for kids, Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code, is due out in May 2017.
Admiral Grace Hopper is a legend in the computer world, and a photo with a biography should be posted on every programming, ed tech, and STEM program bulletin board. The parents of girls who seem to interested in coding should ensure that they learn everything they can about women and the world of technology.
At a time when men abounded in computer programming Admiral “Amazing Grace” Hopper’s achievements were singular.