Born in New York City in December 1906 AD, Grace Brewster Murray never commanded a ship or naval base, never saw combat nor taught at any military academy or war college. Yet Grace retired a Rear Admiral Lower Half (actually, “Commodore,” but the rank was renamed in 1985) in the United States Navy.
After graduating from Vassar College, where she studied mathematics and physics, in 1928, Grace was accepted into Yale University where she received her master’s degree in 1930. That same year she married Vincent Hopper. In 1934, she completed her Ph.D. in mathematics at Yale. When World War II broke out, Grace didn’t rush to join the festivities, but she did enlist in the U.S. Navy Reserve in December 1943 … choosing the Navy simply because her father had served in it. Given her background, Grace was assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance computation project at Harvard, where she was part of the programming staff working on the “Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator,” better known as the Mark I computer.
At the end of the war, Hopper remained in the Reserve, remained at the Harvard facility and worked on the Mark II and III projects. She moved into private industry in 1949 where she worked for the Eckert-Manchly Computer Company and then with Remington Rand. She had a hand in – though not the inventor of – the first compiler for computer languages, the precursor to COBOL. Hopper retired from the Naval Reserve in 1966, but was recalled to duty to help standardize the service’s computer languages.
Grace was promoted to captain in 1973 … which is where she would have remained for the rest of her service except that Representative Philip Crane pushed a joint resolution through Congress that led to her promotion to commodore in 1983. She died in Virginia in 1992.