Grace Murray Hopper ("Amazing Grace") was interviewed in Schlesinger Library's Women in the Federal Government Oral History Project. Hopper relates in the interview that as a child she loved taking things like clocks apart and trying to put them back together. She went on to get her PhD from Yale in 1934 and to teach mathematics at Vassar until 1943, when, wanting to make a direct contribution to the war effort, she joined the Naval Reserve. She had a short bit of training—"thirty days to learn how to take orders, and thirty days to learn how to give orders." Hopper was then commissioned and sent to Harvard to work with Commander Howard Aiken, a pioneer in computing and the conceptual designer behind Mark I, the first large-scale digital computer. (A piece of it is on display in the Science Center.) There were no distinctions as to which jobs were for men and which for women. Hopper became a programmer. In 1949, she went to work for Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation and worked on designing UNIVAC. The company was in an old mill building with a junkyard on one side and a graveyard on the other, and the talk was "if UNIVAC didn't work, we'd throw it out one side and we'd jump out the other." Hopper stayed with the company until 1971. Her memo "Layette for a Computer," described the software that should come with the delivery of a computer. She was involved in the development of FLOW-MATIC, COBOL (Common Business-Oriented Language), and many other computer languages and compilers. In 1966 she retired from the Naval Reserve, but was recalled a year later for six months. Six months became many years, and she worked for the Naval Data Automation Command until 1986, finally retiring as a Rear Admiral. In 1969 she received the first Computer Science Man-of-the-Year Award. The Navy has a guided missile destroyer named for her, the USS Hopper, commissioned in 1997.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011