My Hero Monday is an original feature (and now a link-up!) from the feminist blog The Book Hugger. In the words of its creator, Chloe, “It celebrates female heroes in our society, and promotes learning about new heroes.” My Hero Monday posts feature women both real and fictional, living and deceased.
The full link-up schedule can be found at the end of this post – and if you’d like to join next month (I strongly encourage that you do so), you can find the rules and other information here.
Hello, everyone! Once again, I’m participating in My Hero Monday. February’s theme is “a woman who invented something.” OMG I AM SO EXCITED TO POST THIS. I have sooooo many science heroes. So let’s get started!
Note: You can find my previous My Hero Monday posts here.
Date of birth: December 9, 1906
Date of death: January 1, 1992
School(s): Vassar College, Yale University
Profession: Computer scientist, United States Navy rear admiral
When did I first hear about her?
I’m afraid I don’t quite remember exactly when, but I think I was about fourteen or fifteen. I read about her in a column of New Moon Girls Magazine – which, by the way, is a TOTALLY AWESOME bimonthly feminist publication for girls and young women. You can find their website here.
Anyway, the last page of each issue is devoted to a real-life heroine. (Anyone can write for that particular feature, so maybe I should try sending in something of my own one of these days! What do you think?) In one issue the heroine of choice was Grace Hopper, and… she just seemed really, really cool. She’s been one of my favoritest Science Heroes EVER since then.
What makes her one of my heroes?
EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING SHE DID. BECAUSE SHE DID A LOT OF FREAKING AWESOME THINGS.
Well, let’s begin with what she invented – since that was this month’s theme, after all. Grace Hopper worked with computers all her life and invented the first compiler for a computer. (Compilers are programs that transform source code written in one programming language into another language.) Quite handy, no? But she once remarked that after she created the first compiler, no one believed that it would actually work: “They told me computers could only do arithmetic.”
She worked with the Mark I computer, an absolutely massive computer used as part of the war effort during the last part of WWII. Eventually she coauthored a number of papers about the machine along with its creator, Howard Aiken.
She helped develop COBOL, one of the first high-level programming languages. The entire Navy uses that software to this very day.
Her curiosity and intellect could be observed even very early in her life. At age seven, Grace wanted to know how alarm clocks worked. She disassembled seven of them before her parents realized what she was doing. They limited her to just one clock after that!
That’s not even my favoritest Grace Hopper story, though: In the 1940s, while working on a Mark II computer, her team discovered that a moth was stuck in the computer and had prevented the computer from functioning properly… prompting her to remark that they were “debugging” the system! You can see Hopper’s notebook, and what’s left of the moth, at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. (I have. It was a supremely geeky moment.)
At one point, she was the oldest woman in all of the Armed Forces. Grace Hopper lived to the age of eighty-five and was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. Due to her naval rank and her many accomplishments, she is known as “Amazing Grace.”
I will never not be astounded by her life and her work.
P.S. As usual, I’ve found a video relating to this month’s MHM! In this clip, Grace Hopper discusses nanoseconds. I absolutely love her speaking style – she explains a difficult concept effortlessly, clearly, and with humor. (I love her props in this talk!)
“We’re flooding people with information. We need to feed it through a processor. A human must turn information into intelligence or knowledge. We’ve tended to forget that no computer will ever ask a new question.”
“I seem to do a lot of retiring.”
“The most important thing I’ve accomplished, other than building the compiler, is training young people. They come to me, you know, and say, ‘Do you think we can do this?’ I say, “Try it.” And I back ’em up. They need that. I keep track of them as they get older and I stir ’em up at intervals so they don’t forget to take chances.”
“If it’s a good idea, go ahead and do it. It is much easier to apologize than it is to get permission.”
So. Time for YOU to talk! Did you know anything about Grace Hopper before reading this post?! And who is your favorite lady scientist/inventor/computer programmer? I’d love to know!
Be sure to check out the other My Hero Monday link-up posts!
nevillegirl @ Musings From Neville’s Navel
Wrap-up by Chloe @ The Book Hugger