Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Grace M. Hopper

"Amazing Grace"

Figure 1: Photograph of Grace Hopper. Image Retrieved from:

She is poised in a black and white photograph, locking your eyes in a gaze with hers. Her hair is combed back to accentuate the bold features of her face. Her hands are folded delicately to her side, not to suggest restfulness but rather the beginning of an idea. In front of her is a pen and notebook, where she puts her ideas before they become actions. She is not simply just looking at you, but she is telling you something that she wants you to know about her: she is a fighter, a hustler, a Navy veteran, a genius, a woman. All things that make her Grace Murray Hopper.

Hopper was born December 9, 1906 in New York, where she became a graduate of Vassar College in 1928, and earned her Ph.D. from Yale University in mathematics and physics in 1934[1]. Out of the ten students receiving their doctorate from Yale in ’34, she was one of the four women included; it is furthermore noted that, “her doctorate in mathematics was a rare accomplishment in its day.”[2]

The promise Hopper showed as a student followed her in her career as a computer scientist where she became a “compiler”, and created a written language called “COBOL”[3] . This language Hopper created was meant for programmers to better understand the language of the computer, which was perhaps one of the rarest accomplishments anyone had ever heard of at the time, especially coming from a woman.

Hopper forever changed the world of computers and how they are interpreted to this day, for she shifted a well-established computer language from numbers in code to written word. Her initial inquiry as a young computer programmer has left an incredible impact on the progression of technology as a whole[4].

Hopper went on to enlist in the Navy as a computer programmer during WWII, working under the hand of Howard Aiken at Harvard Computation Laboratory[5]. WWII had opened up an incredible amount of jobs for women, pulling them out of the ‘40s female lifestyle as stay at home mothers, and into the role of war pioneers in numerous fields of work; one being computer programming.

In being an accomplished and educated woman who thrived in a field where men took precedent, Hopper naturally fell under extreme pressures. The emphasis on computer programmers, never mind as a female computer programmer, to be mistake-free during this time of war was crucial. This pressure was heavily due in part to the fact that American technology was at a pivotal time during the war, and any misstep could have been detrimental to further progression. Computer programming elevated to higher stakes for computer programmers during the war, just as being a woman in a male-dominated field elevated to higher stakes.

Hopper’s brilliance undeniably came with the burden of pressure; pressure from Aiken during her work as a computer programmer during WWII, and the pressure she felt from herself to live up to these high expectations that were put on her.

These demands were so extreme that Hopper became an alcoholic. Even post war, Hopper’s alcoholism worsened. At 3 a.m. one night, she was arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct and immediately taken to a local police station in Philadelphia[6]. Dark days had come upon her, where her dependency on alcohol had become so extreme that she saw no way out. Hopper had attempted suicide by drowning herself on two accounts.

However, Hopper had regained her prominent step. She had received treatment for her alcoholism, and in 1967 had reenlisted in the Navy, becoming Director of the Navy Programming Languages Group and eventually as a Captain in 1973[7]. Her fierce and gifted mind had what was the most advanced missile destroyer at the time named after her, USS Grace Hopper[8]. Her career and accomplishments as a computer programmer have placed her as one of the most pivotal figures in computer programming to this day.

When Hopper was asked by an interviewer about what she had thought of the women’s movement during the ‘40s – ‘70s, she responded: “I don’t know much about it ’cause I didn’t have to worry about it. I was in the Navy.”[9] This is perhaps one of the ways that Grace Hopper defined herself: a pioneer who ignored the gender-oppressive ways of her society by rising above what was meant to limit her.

Hopper rose above the barrier that was put around her, and chose a road of recovery, resilience, and reinvention. She had found herself in an array of addiction and self-harm, where it got to the point of her being unable to identify who she was. Until she decided that enough was enough.

Grace Hopper is poised in a black and white photograph. She is dressed in her Navy uniform. Her eyes are focused and her voice is steadfast and prominent. Her hair is combed back to accentuate the bold and hardened features of her face. Her hands are no longer folded at her side, but are now in motion.

Figure 2: Photograph of Grace Hopper, 78 years old,  during speech at Miami-Dade Community College.
Image retrieved from: https://www.floridamemory.com/items/show/15353


"Hopper, Grace Murray 1906-1992." American Decades, edited by Judith S. Baughman, et al., vol. 6: 1950-1959, Gale, 2001, p. 430. U.S. History in Context, Accessed 9 Feb. 2017.

Beyer, Kurt. Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2009. Internet resource.

America’s Navy. “Named for Rear Admiral 'Amazing' Grace Hopper”. America’s Navy. http://www.public.navy.mil/surfor/ddg70/Pages/namesake.aspx#.WJy3PzsrLb . Accessed 9 Feb. 2017

NPR. “Grace Hopper, ‘Queen of Code’, Would Have Hated That Title”. NPR.
http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2015/03/07/390247203/grace-hopper-the-queen-of-code-would-have-hated-that-title. Accessed 9 Feb 2017.

Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. “Grace Murray Hopper.” Yale Edu. Accessed February 13, 2017. http://www.cs.yale.edu/homes/tap/Files/hopper-story.html

Pierce, Melissa. “Born With Curiosity – The Grace Hopper Story.” YouTube Video.

[1] "Hopper, Grace Murray 1906-1992." American Decades, edited by Judith S. Baughman
[2] Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. “Grace Murray Hopper.”
[3] "Hopper, Grace Murray 1906-1992." American Decades, edited by Judith S. Baughman,
[4] Pierce, Melissa. “Born With Curiosity – The Grace Hopper Story.” YouTube Video.
[5] Beyer, Kurt. Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age
[6] Beyer, Kurt. Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age
[7] America’s Navy. “Named for Rear Admiral “Amazing” Grace Hopper”. America’s Navy
[8] Beyer, Kurt. Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age
[9] NPR. “Grace Hopper, ‘Queen of Code’, Would Have Hated That Title”. NPR  


  1. I find it useful to know about women in STEM fields that succeed despite the workforce being mainly male. It shows that not only is that individual determind and intent on prospering in their job, but also that these jobs are not for men alone. Anyone willing to put the work in and persevere through the intellectual struggles of the field will be able to make an honest living in that job. This makes me think of the Lord of the Flies. The boys were a mess by the end of the novel and almost killed one of their own. Imagine if it was women on the island stranded inside. Even though there would be obvious problems, they would survive if they work together because females are capable of doing the same things men can and are naturally more rational at the same time.
    - T.F.

    1. Terryl,
      Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post. I appreciate how you mentioned that it was useful to learn about women in the STEM field, since it is another example of how the work force is another form of oppression. I have never read/seen the Lord of the Flies, but I found it quite interesting how you tied this work of literature in with your understanding of Hopper's perseverance. Thank you Terryl!

  2. I was hooked from the first line you wrote. Your introduction was very engaging and interesting and I love how you ended your article similarly but with the information that now her hands are in motion. My mom works at a company that is involved with STEM for all genders and they especially are looking for more girls to be involved in that field. I didn't know much about Hopper before I read this but I can see how much of an influence she has had on women and society. Hopper reminds me a bit of Malala, whom I read about in her autobiography for school. Both of these influential women changed the world even when it seemed that all was against them. They both rose back up after life events that tried to keep them down and I have a lost of respect towards them. Did you write about Hopper because you want to be involved in a STEM job? If not, then why Hopper?

    1. Jojo,
      Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post. I appreciate your kind feedback on the introduction and closing of the blog. It is great to hear that the STEM field is looking for more women to be involved in their line of work. We have Hopper to thank for this! It is even more helpful to be able to tie a piece of literature, such as Malala, to your understanding of Hopper. To answer your question, no I am not involved in the STEM field. I am actually an English major, however what initially interested me about Hopper was that she was a Navy war veteran. I learned about her work in STEM throughout my research, and felt even more appreciation for her. Thank you Jojo!

  3. "She is a fighter, a hustler, a Navy veteran, a genius, a woman." Such a sentence is simple, yet powerful to introduce a figure of many personas, who is, in the end, a woman. As a female interested in the STEM field, especially programming, I find it extremely empowering to read about the accomplishments that Grace Hopper had achieved; from creating "COBOL" to becoming Director and Captain of the Navy Programming Languages Group, "Amazing Grace" is indeed the accurate title to describe her. Though I only knew some facts along with her name, reading this entry has given me even more admiration for her, especially when knowing of her dire past plagued with alcoholism. However, her steadfast dedication to her work, to even ignoring stereotypical gender roles and perceptions, is a detail most powerful to me. Considering the prospect of women in the STEM field, it continues to remain a rare occupation for them, where men currently continue to dominate most areas of engineering, programming, and much more. But hopefully, in due time, more young girls can be exposed to the triumphs that women of the past have done, and give an idea of joining and being involved in science. Reading this also brings to mind the book and the adapted movie "Hidden Figures" where it chronicles the lives of three African-American women working at NASA during the Space Race. Though this is not specifically computer programming, the idea of them working in the STEM field, also a rarity, during times of possible discrimination can also be of relation to Hopper. This also brings to mind Malala Yousafzai, a young woman advocating for the educational rights of girls, detailed in her speeches and her book, "I Am Malala". Like Hopper, Malala is in a circumstance where girls are limited, or not expected, to obtain an education; for Hopper, this circumstance is becoming a computer programmer. Yet, the two had arisen through hardships, and remain focused on their set goal. About the research, what was a fact that you felt was extremely interesting?

    1. Ashley,
      Thank you so much for such a thoughtful response. It is so cool to hear that you want to be in programming, and how this piece inspired you to that much more to follow your dreams. I felt it necessary to include Hopper's past of alcoholism, for like the warrior she was, she fought through her struggles and was able to accomplish so much. A true hero and role model she is! Your interest in the STEM field as a female is only going to make it a more diverse field in the future. I appreciate you correlating both Hidden Figures and Malala to your understanding of Grace Hopper. Hidden Figures was an incredible example of women rising above what was meant to limit them, specifically in the STEM field. To answer your question, my initial interest in Hopper was that she was a Navy veteran. As an English major, I thought I would have written about a women who was a writer. However, I felt strongly about Hopper when I discovered she was in the service, and her incredible influence in the STEM field made her that much more interesting. Thank you, Ashley!

  4. Up until reading this I had not been aware of who Hopper Grace was, but I can say I'm glad I do know now and truly enjoyed reading about her. To get how sincere I'm being, what I like about this story in particular is how it's about a computer programmer! Right now I'm working towards the best means possible of improving my computer programming skills and hope to enter a field that involves computer science, because I simply love it, maybe as much as Hopper did.

    A quote that the article included was, “I don’t know much about it ’cause I didn’t have to worry about it. I was in the Navy.” This is the kind of person I truly love when it comes to supporting movements, without actually supporting them. Hopper was making a statement through her actions, which more often than not can speak louder than words (for better or worse). Instantly her personality reminded me of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout is a tomboyish girl that is simply being herself, without making a conscious effort to oppose the 1930s norm of a proper girl. What I really admire about this pair is that they are both doers and make statements by being themselves.

    It's hard to put in perspective the kind of pressures Hopper must have faced working during such a time under crucial conditions, on top of being disadvantaged for being a woman. I'm curious as to know; were there any reported moments in her career where Hopper made a mistake that seriously harmed her reputation? Had she ever encountered any other women in her field of work? To get to the main question however, what is your research strategy? To be more specific, when you were constructing the article and gathering points of information were you picking points to create a buildup with no particular end in sight; or had you figured the shell of the story and were picking the right points that would fill the frame you made?

    I truly enjoyed reading your article on Grace Hopper and thank you for creating the opportunity for me to learn about her!

    1. Dylan,
      Thank you for your thoughtful response. It is so interesting to hear that you are interested in computer programming! Go for it! I appreciate your response to Hopper's quote about not having to worry about oppression, even though it was surrounding her. I could not agree with you more, in the fact that Hopper was making a statement through her actions, just as Scout does in To Kill A Mockingbird. Correlating other works of literature to another only helps to further our understanding. To answer your question, our professor Dr. Vinson wanted us to take a specific angle on our figure's life; for example, I wanted to highlight what a fighter Hopper was in every sense: overcoming alcohol addiction, enlisting in the Navy, and changing the world of computer programming, doing so with such grace and perseverance. These questions that you ask, however, could be very interesting to find out! Thank you again, Dylan!

  5. I viewed several other articles on this blog before this one, only scanning them briefly, but your introduction managed to capture my attention. Almost immediately, the interpretation of the photo of Grace Hopper with her hands “folded delicately to her side… to suggest… the beginning of an idea” struck me as profound, personal, and inspiring. I have read so many biographies of successful people that sometimes my eyes glaze over when I come across another generic tale. However, the multidimensionality of the narrative—from Hopper’s accomplishments in computer science to her involvement in the Navy—brought the writing to life. The stressors that sent her spiraling down into addiction are relatable for me, but her “recovery, resilience, and reinvention” (a powerful and skillful use of alliteration) give me hope. I especially appreciate the continuity between the beginning and ending, though I feel that the transition to the last paragraph is too abrupt.

    One thing I would like to know more about your research is the extent to which males dominated computing industries during Hopper’s time. As the pioneers of early computer science and programming, women were once the majority in those fields. Additionally, would you consider writing in greater detail about Hopper’s accomplishments, delving deeper than a general biography?

    Since this is a school assignment, I have to connect your piece to something my class read this year, even though it sounds out of place in this comment. During the summer, we read I Am Malala, the biography of Malala Yousafzai, a young education activist and feminist. Despite the dangers of campaigning for girls’ schooling in a politically unstable region controlled by misogynists, Malala intelligently and elegantly stood up for what she believes to be a fundamental human right. Moreover, facing a near-death situation only served to strengthen her dedication.

    1. Katherine,
      Thank you kindly for your thoughtful response. I appreciate your liking to the introduction of Hopper. Believe it or not, our professor Dr. Vinson had made this an exercise in class, where we were to look at a photograph of our figure and describe what we see. After writing about what I had seen from looking at the photograph of Hopper, I knew I had to put it as the intro. I felt it necessary to highlight her alcohol addiction, for she showed that great things can come from being in such a dark place. Sometimes, this is where we find out the most about ourselves. I also appreciate your feedback about the last paragraph ending too - and I could not agree more! If I had more time to work on this piece, I would have not ended it so quickly, and also would have added more research as you suggested. Correlating pieces of literature to other forms of writing helps us to answer questions about our reality, and why things are the way they are. Thank you again, Katherine!

    2. Hi Emma, thanks for the reply. That in-class exercise sounds very interesting! Analyzing photographs can really provide valuable insights. I agree that including her struggles with alcoho addiction were important, and I think it's true that dark places often reveal things about ourselves. Reflecting during difficult situations can make one's thinking clearer. Best of luck with your future writings!

  6. The beginning and end of this felt very powerful, and I think that encapsulates truly who she was. Against all odds and expectations, not to mention immense pressure, Hopper succeeded and exceded everyone's expectations. At a time where the domestic wife is such a common and overpowering stigma, to break free of the stereotype and establish your presence in a place where you may not be as welcomed is incredibly brave. She reminds me of who I believe Scout wants to be when she grows up, in To Kill a Mockingbird. Scout's intelligence at a young age and desire to learn more, as well as actively defying gender norms in a time when prejudice ruled society, signify to me that she would aspire to be someone like Hopper. I am curious, do you know what exactly Hopper's role was during the war that caused her such stress to be perfect and flawless in her work?

    1. David,
      Thank you for taking the time to read this piece. I appreciate that you thought that the beginning and the end was powerful - I felt that it needed to be for such an incredible person! It seems as though correlating Scout to Hopper has helped you to understand what defying gender norms really means. To answer your question, Hopper's boss was known to be an incredibly demanding man, for reasons that we may have to infer (she was a gifted female in a male-dominated field). Not to mention the natural pressures everyone felt during the time of war. Furthermore, computer programming is a very intricate job that requires an incredible amount of focus and attention. If you have not seen it yet, Hidden Figures really highlights the emphasis of being mistake-free. Thank you again, David!

  7. Thank you for taking the time to write this article! It was very enlightening to read. My favorite part was your introduction/conclusion style of describing a picture. It was cool how for the first picture, it's almost as if you're trying to convince us she is strong and bold, but in the second picture, we all agree. You described her in such a way that made her, as you say, a fighter- and she is! You're probably seeing this a lot in the comments here, but the best connection I could make to this particular person would be with Malala Yousafzai (I Am Malala). In either situation, these women were strong and held tight to education and the field in which they serve (school, computer work). Malala relates to Grace because both of them encountered a very large obstacle in their time that nearly cost them their lives, and both things have been overcome. Both women are strong and will not give up because man has discouraged them.
    Despite the brilliant quality of your work, a few questions remain- was it difficult to research Grace? Because of her time, was she considered famous? And lastly, did you have fun? Don't mind the last question, of course you did!
    Again, I just want to thank you for having written this. It was inspiring and enlightening for me, who knows little about exactly how it was like for women in these times.
    And before I forget, thank you for keeping it interesting and to the point. I often struggle with focusing on the same thing for a while, but yours was very engaging! Thank you :)
    -Jack N.

    1. Jack,
      Thank you kindly for taking the time to read my piece. I have been finding that a lot of your classmates really appreciated the intro and closing of this piece - in fact, our professor Dr. Vinson had made this an exercise, where we were to study a photograph of our figure and write about what we see. This was incredibly helpful, for it helped me to write the beginning and conclusion of my piece. I have not read Malala, however correlating pieces of literature to other forms of writing really helps us to understand our reality, and why things are the way they are. It sounds as though Malala and Hopper really share a lot of qualities. To answer your questions, I have also found research to be the most interesting part of a project (specifically when learning about someone), so yes I had fun! Of course a typical idea we have as students when we hear the word "research" is one where we are sitting in front of computer or a stack of books for hours trying to learn as much as we can about someone in such a fixed time. However, this was part of the fun, because we were able to take a specific angle on our figure instead of writing a grueling biography about them! Thank you so much for your kind words! I often have trouble focusing too, but when it is something that interests us, it is often easier to read! Thank you, Jack!

  8. "Hustler" is quite an apt description of Grace Hopper. Graduate from Yale with a doctorate? Check. Hold prominent position as a computer programmer in the US Navy during World War II? Not a problem. Beat alcoholism and continue to further the role of women in her field? Done and done. Created her own language of code, I mean come on. This lady was a straight up boss. When you think about people working with computers during WWII my mind goes to Alan Turing. They share some similarities, the aforementioned time during the war being one, but also the fact that they both struggled for success because of who they were fundamentally. Hopper because she was a woman and Turing because he was gay. Turing unfortunately would commit suicide years after the war, but Hopper went into rehab and picked herself up. Imagining people in history as complex is difficult and it's good to recognize that even brilliant people were flawed. I was wondering if there were any more contributing causes to her alcoholism other than her time at war, and what she did with her later life.

    1. Emily,
      Thank you so much for your unique response! I felt the same way about Hopper, she was totally a boss! She had set the tone in a time where women often could not, and had overcome what was meant to limit her. I appreciate your correlation to Turing - it is so sad that he could not find a light in his darkness. I also greatly appreciate your mentioning of how brilliant people are also flawed; this idea acted as the "bare bones" of my piece, where my understanding of Hopper's struggles and her fight to overcome them was what made her brilliant. To answer your question, Hopper had an incredibly demanding boss, and worked in a field and in a time where no mistakes could be made. However in truly understanding an individual's personal struggle with addiction is almost impossible. We can infer from research that it was because of the war, the extreme pressures from her boss, and the fact that she was a woman working in a field where men dominated - but there may be even further personal struggles Hopper was keeping to herself. We can appreciate her struggles as a means for her brilliance. Thank you, Emily!

    2. The politics of women in the workplace is, for lack of a better word, messy. Sure there's been evolution but it's still a pretty volatile topic. The pressures that Hopper seemed to be under are terrible, but still imaginable. You can kind of picture the environment she needed to work in and how she was treated. Thinking like that makes Hopper seem rather tragic, especially in retrospect. But it's nice to know that what she grappled with doesn't negate her genius. Being flawed and complex doesn't make her any less brilliant. That's an ideal legacy to leave.

  9. You definitely grabbed my attention by starting in a way that expresses her boldness. I think it was a great piece of writing and you did. It lose my attention. You also did a great job explaining the photos you used. Learning about women in STEM is a good change at this time shows hard work pays off because of the time she lived in. A women can be whatever she wants.

    1. Tucker,
      Thank you for your response. I appreciate that the excerpt of the photograph grabbed your attention. I am a visual learner too, so I learn things by how I see them mostly. It is incredible how much you can learn from looking at a photograph. Thank you, Tucker.