Dr. Grace Hopper is sometimes referred to as “Amazing Grace” for her accomplishments in computer programming as well as her achievement of the rank of Real Admiral in the United States Navy.
Taking a leave of absence from her associate professor position at Vassar College, she joined the U.S. Navy Reserve as part of the WAVES in 1943. Graduating first in her class from Midshipmen’s School she was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation program at Harvard working with the MARK I computer. At the end of World War II she asked to be transferred to the regular Navy but was denied due to the fact she was 38 so she continued to serve in the Navy Reserve.
Turning down a full professorship at Vassar she remained at the Harvard Computation Lab working with the Mark II and Mark III computers. Hopper worked at Harvard until 1949 where she moved to the private sector leading the team programming the UNIVAC computer. Her team also created the first compiler for computer languages that served as a precursor for the programming language COBOL.
Forced to retire from the Navy Reserve at the age of 60, she was recalled to active duty to work on standardizing communications between different programming languages the next year. Four years later she retired again but was again asked to return the next year and was promoted to Captain. In 1983 she was promoted to Commodore by special order of the president and was allowed to remain on active duty beyond the mandatory retirement age by special approval of Congress. When she retired one last time in 1986, Hopper was the oldest serving member of the service.
She continued to work in the computer industry until her death in 1992, after which she was interred with full military honors and continues to be honored including a guided missile destroyer named the USS Hopper and in September 2016 it was announced that the U.S. Naval Academy will name its future cyber building in her honor.
Written by Angela Goad