Women Inventors _Series 10_ Grace Hopper


Can you guess who is described by these words: “Got a doctorate in mathematics at Yale, became a rear admiral in the US Navy, became a computer scientist, wrote the very first operating system for a computer, a created one of the first flashcards (a type of computer program) ”?

Women played an important role in the early history of modern computers. The word “computers” was first used for people, mostly women, who solved numerical computational problems, each of them solving only part of the problem, and together accomplished what electronic computers did. do today. This was necessary in the United States with regard to the design of new airplanes, the analysis of wind tunnel data for model airplanes of new designs for the war effort during World War II.

Over time, electromechanical computers, and later fully electronic computers, using vacuum tubes, were built. Electromechanical computers used thousands of relays and were wired to perform certain classes of calculations. They could not be programmed. Relays are electrically operated switches in which energizing a coil in the relay physically closes a switch.

It is said that by working on such a computer, it malfunctioned. One of the people who worked there went to investigate and found an insect stuck between the contacts of a relay, and as a result, it could not close. The “bug” was removed and the computer started working again. When co-workers asked what had been found, the response was, “I found a bug.” This is the origin of the term bug for errors in a computer or software and the correction is called debugging.

The person we are talking about is Grace Brewster Murray Hopper (née Murray). Grace was born in New York. She was the oldest of three children of Walter Fletcher Murray and Mary Campbell van Horne.

Grace studied at Vassar College and graduated from Phi Beta Kappa in 1928 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics. She graduated from Yale University in 1930. In 1934, she received a doctorate in mathematics from Yale. Grace began teaching mathematics at Vassar in 1931 and was promoted to associate professor in 1941.

Grace tried to enlist in the Navy but was rejected because she was then thirty-four. During the war in 1943, Grace was granted leave of absence from Vassar and was sworn in in the United States Naval Reserve. She showed up in December and trained at the Naval Reserve Midshipman School. Grace was first in her class in 1944 and was invited to work in the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University.

There she served on the Mark I computer programming staff. Grace and her manager Aiken co-authored three articles on the Mark I, also known as the Controlled Sequence Automatic Calculator. After the war, she continued to serve in the Naval Reserve. Grace remained at the Harvard Computation Lab until 1949, turning down a full professor position at Vassar in favor of working as a researcher under a Navy contract at Harvard.

In 1949, Grace joined the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation as a senior mathematician and joined the development team at UNIVAC I. UNIVAC was the first large-scale electronic computer to be brought to market in 1950.

Grace recommended that data processors be able to write their programs in English and that computers translate them into machine code. Such work is done by a compiler. Although her idea was not accepted, she published her first article on compilers in 1952. She eventually wrote a compiler called the A compiler.

In 1952, she created the first link-loader. The link loader translated the mathematical notation into machine code. No one believed it and told him that computers can only do arithmetic. She was convinced that English programs could be translated into machine code by the machine itself. It was the start of COBOL – an early computer language.

In 1954, Grace was appointed the company’s first director of automatic programming, and her department released some of the first compiler-based programming languages, including MATH-MATIC and FLOW-MATIC.

Grace advocated the replacement of large centralized systems with networks of small distributed computers so that any user on any computer could access databases on the network. She pioneered standards for testing computer systems and components, especially for early programming languages ​​such as FORTRAN and COBOL.

Although Grace retired at the age of sixty, she was called back to work several times and eventually retired as a Rare Admiral in 1986. Upon her retirement, she was awarded the Medal of the distinguished service of defense – the highest non-combat decoration.

Following her retirement from the Navy, she became a Senior Consultant with Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and held this position until her death at the age of 85 in 1992.

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