Grace Murray Hopper: Coding New Possibilities for Women

By Estrella Salgado

Not sure whether you should do something? Grace Murray Hopper would tell you, “Go ahead and do it. You can always apologize later.” Who was this spunky woman giving out such bold advice? Put simply, she was a military leader, mathematician, computer programmer, and all-around amazing force of girl power. So why doesn’t Grace get more credit? This is possibly due to her severe lack of Lip Kits and MTV appearances. Luckily, The Maroon is here to ensure that Grace gets the cool girl status that she truly deserves.

Grace was born in New York City on December 9, 1906. She was a curious little kid, always tinkering with clocks to figure out how they worked. Despite the unfair conditions for women in the U.S. at the time — they couldn’t even vote yet! —  Grace’s parents encouraged her to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects. Grace eventually got a Ph.D. in mathematics at Yale in 1934. Today, there is a college named after her at her alma mater.

When World War II broke out, Grace was quick to leave her job as a professor at Vassar College to join the Navy. She put her brainpower to good use at the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University, where she learned to program computers. Grace was so talented at her role in the Navy that she stayed on after the war ended, even becoming a rear-admiral. When she moved to the private sector, Grace made significant advances in computer language, especially one called the Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL). COBOL is still a popular software program in the finance and government sectors.

One of Grace’s finest achievements was receiving the National Medal of Technology in 1991. She was the first woman to receive such an honor. She also received over thirty honorary degrees from universities.

Grace cracked the glass ceiling for women in two major fields, the military and STEM. Women are still fighting for true equality, which Grace would have found sadly unsurprising. “Humans are allergic to change,” she said, blithely adding, “I try to fight that. That’s why I have a clock on my wall that runs counter-clockwise.” The world needs more men and women who are willing to turn their clocks backwards.

If you’re interested in coding, check out the websites Codecademy and Girls Who Code. Information about the Navy and other branches of the military is also available online and in the LRC.

Note: The Maroon takes no responsibility for any epic failures caused by following Grace’s advice to not ask permission first, especially involving Argo deans.