NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, October 2010
The first Computer Science
“Man of the Year” was a woman

By Joan Craymer, Newsletter Editor,
Australian Seniors Computer Club Association July 2010 issue, ASCCA newsletter

thewhistlers (at) optusnet.com.au (click to email author)

In 1969, the Data Processing Management Association awarded the first Computer Science Man-of-the-Year Award to Grace Brewster Murray Hopper. In 1973 she also became the first woman (and the first American) to become a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society. In 1991, she was awarded America’s greatest honour in engineering and technology, the National Medal of Technology. She was a true pioneer in computing and was an amazing role model for professional women everywhere. Computing is one field where women have been accepted as equals partly in consequence of the achievements of Grace Hopper.

Although she died on 1st January 1992 Rear Admiral Grace Brewster Murray Hopper continues to inspire. The 10th Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing series of conferences, "Collaborating Across Boundaries" will be held in Atlanta, Georgia from September 28 - October 2, 2010. Previous Grace Hopper Celebrations have given increased focus on the important contributions of women in computer science, information technology, research and engineering.

Grace Brewster Murray was born in New York City on December 9, 1906. Her mother studied mathematics and geometry in an age when this was ‘improper’ and her father was a strong and successful insurance broker despite both legs having been lost to amputation.

Grace graduated from Vassar College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics and Physics in 1928 and by 1930 had a Master’s Degree in Mathematics from Yale University. That year she married Vincent Hopper who taught English at the New York School of Commerce. Grace was a teacher at Vassar until 1943 but during this time she had earned a Ph.D. from Yale in 1934 and had become an associate professor.

Grace came from a family with military traditions and by 1943 she felt compelled to join the Naval Reserve. She was commissioned as a lieutenant and by 1944 was working as a member of Howard Aiken’s research team with the Bureau of Ordinance Computation Project at Harvard on their computer project.

Her brilliant mathematical mind achieved great things in this and other projects and by the end of the war she was deeply involved in research and design. This work included advanced data processing compilers to translate English language instruction into computer language. She also invented the computer language APT and verified the COBOL language.

She continued to work back and forth with the military, various computer and research companies, the academic world and business - never working at just one job at any one time. In 1949 she joined the Eckert-Mauchly Corporation which was responsible for building ENIAC which was one of the first electronic digital computers.

After a brief period of retirement from the Naval Reserve, in 1966 she went back on active service to work for the Navy on the standardization of COBOL and other computer languages. After being given the rank of commodore in 1983 by a special presidential appointment, she eventually became Rear Admiral Hopper and had a ship named after her.

After 46 years of remarkable naval service she was officially retired at 80 years old in a ceremony on the deck of the USS Constitution in 1986. However she continued as a senior consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation until her death. No wonder her amazing achievements continue to inspire both men and women today.

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