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As you celebrate the moms in your life this weekend, raise a glass to Grace Murray Hopper, also known as the “Mother of Computing,” the “Mother of COBOL” or simply “Amazing Grace.” And amazing she was. This technology trailblazer advocated for computer languages that relied on words, not numbers.

Born in 1906 in New York City, Hopper earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physics from Vassar College, as well as a master’s and PhD in mathematics from Yale University. She began teaching at Vassar in 1931, but was drawn away from academics in 1943 by the war effort.

She joined the Naval Reserve as part of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) and was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard. There, she worked on the Mark computer series, wrote a 500-page manual outlining computer operations and even coined the term “computer bug.”

Authoring a new computer language

After the war, Hopper wanted to transfer to the Navy, but her request was denied to her age (38). Instead, she went to work at Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation on the UNIVAC 1 team. It was there she served as an architect of COBOL, a new compiled computer language introduced in 1959 that allowed computers to respond to words as well as numbers. On Mother’s Day this weekend, remember the “Mother of Computing” Grace Murray Hopper, who pushed for computer languages that relied on words, not numbers.

Hopper’s efforts standardized the idea that computer code could be written and read like a language. In 1967, Hopper joined the Navy’s Office of Information Systems Planning, ultimately retiring from the Navy in 1986 with the rank of rear admiral.

Hopper often said she wanted to live until Jan. 1, 2000, to see how far computers had advanced—and prove the naysayers she had encountered throughout her career wrong. Alas, she passed away Jan. 1, 1992. She is buried at Arlington National Cemetery and was posthumously presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.

Photo: metamorworks / Shutterstocks

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Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

One Comment

  1. I just started a company in the MSP market and was doing some research tonight when I came across your article. I’m not sure what inspired you to write this but, well done. I was not aware of her tremendous influence to the trending (at that time) computer growth.
    Having experienced the transition into the 2000’s, from a computer technology perspective, it came and went without a bang per SE.
    Thanks again for the article and insight to such an influential pioneer.


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