My Hero Monday: Grace Hopper

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.

my hero monday

grace hopperGrace Hopper

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!)

Notable Quotes

“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!

February 2:

Sam @ Bookish Serendipity

Mawa Mahima @ All Things Wordy

February 9:

Ana @ Butterflies of the Imagination

nevillegirl @ Musings From Neville’s Navel

February 16:

Bridget @ Stay and Watch the Stars

Cait @ Paper Fury

Isa @ A Doodler’s Freedom

February 23:

Wrap-up by Chloe @ The Book Hugger

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About nevillegirl

Elizabeth, University of Iowa class of 2019. Double majoring in English & Creative Writing and Journalism. Twenty-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, and aspiring writer. Passionate about feminism and lesbian positivity.
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8 Responses to My Hero Monday: Grace Hopper

  1. Mom says:

    I didn’t know you knew about Grace Hopper! I first read about her years and years ago when her bio was in one of the sidebars of a math text I used as a teacher.

  2. Mo says:

    She seems super cool! I shall have to investigate her further.

    • nevillegirl says:

      She is! 😀 (Or, well, was. I suppose.) sdjakgsdksdgfkajsdf science-y ladies in Ye Olden Times are like one of my favorite things. Ditto old people who keep doing cool stuff and don’t let their age stop them. ❤

  3. moosha23 says:

    I love this post! 😀
    I have heard of Grace Hopper (the Mark 1 computer was freaking cool, I stared at a picture of it for days) and I’ve also heard of the “debugging” story but I didn’t know she was a Navy member or that the moth and her notebook could be found at a museum!

    Also YES PLEASE DO WRITE FOR THE MAGAZINE. Wouldn’t that be pretty cool? Getting yourself out there and all. 🙂

    • nevillegirl says:

      Aw, thank you very much! 🙂

      Grace Hopper is the bestest. Ehehe, those old computers amuse me because they were SO FLIPPING HUGE.

      Hmmm, I’ll just have to narrow down my ideas! There are SO many awesome ladies I’d love to write about! 😀

  4. Cait says:

    I hadn’t heard of Grace Hopper till now. SHE SOUNDS AMAZING. And inspiring. *whispers* I think I’m going to do Violet Baudelaire, because as soon as I saw the prompt that’s who I wanted to do. x) But I think one of the other linkers did her, so we’ll see. I might still cave.
    I LOVE THOSE QUOTES.

    • nevillegirl says:

      GRACE HOPPER INSPIRES ME TO DO ALLLLLLLLLL THE SCIENCE-Y FLAIL-Y FANGIRLING. *nodnod* Oh, you should TOTALLY do Violet Baudelaire. I mean, I know someone else already has, but… she’s so cool. And fictional ladies are always a nice change, right?! 🙂

      I love them too. 🙂

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