Navy Honors Grace Hopper

GRACE HOPPERThere has never been a building at any of the major military academies named after a woman—until now! The First Woman to have this honor is Grace Hopper whose name will grace the U.S. Naval Academy’s new cyber facility. Grace Hopper was a pioneer in computer programming and a U.S. Navy Rear Admiral.

Hopper holds the title of First Woman in several other instances as well:

–She was the First Woman director at Ecker-Mauchly Computer Corporation where she worked on compiler-based programming languages for UNIVAC. Back in the days before many others realized that someday we would all have computers, Grace Hopper was working to make computers accessible.

–She was the first recipient (not just woman) of the (catch the name) Science Man-of-the-Year award presented by the Data Processing Management Association in 1969.

–She was named a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society in 1973. Not only was she the First Woman in the world to receive this honor, she was also the first person from the United States who was recognized.

Prior to the Naval Academy’s decision to name a building for her, Grace Hopper also had a guided missile destroyer christened in her name. I can’t help but wonder is she wasn’t a guided missile herself, aimed directly at destroying stereotypes about women.

(For more information about Grace Hopper, read my earlier blog from 2013)

Hawaiian First Women

Recently I traveled to Hawaii with my sister. The highlight was sailing joyfully on a catamaran in the Pacific on my birthday and hunting for First Women. My favorite was Queen Lili’uokalani but she deserves a blog of her own. While I’m writing that, here are a few others we can admire:

ALICE BALLIn 1915 Alice Ball, an African-African woman from Seattle, Washington, was the First Woman to graduate with a Masters of Science in chemistry from the University of Hawaii. After graduating she became the First Woman to teach chemistry at the University. She researched the effect of chaulmoogra oil on Hansen disease (also called leprosy). For some reason Hawaiians were especially susceptible to the disease and Alice devoted herself to its improvement and cure.

Rosalie Keli’inoi
was the First Woman elected to the Territorial Legislature in Hawaii, in 1924—justROSALIE KELI'INOI four years after women were given the right to vote in the nineteenth amendment. She sponsored legislation granting property rights for women and several of her bills passed. She assured that a woman could sell her own property without her husband’s approval.

Two firsts for women arose unhappily from the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. PEARL HARBOR ATTACKAnna Leah Fox was head nurse at Hickam Field. When the Japanese bombed the planes sitting on the ground at the airfield, Anna was wounded. She was awarded a Purple Heart, the first ever awarded to a woman. After witnessing smoke rising over Pearl Harbor, Cornelia Fort was the second woman to volunteer for the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. In 1943 she was killed when another plane hit her. She was the First Woman U.S. military pilot to die in the line of duty.

In 1971 Patsy Takemoto Mink was the First Asian-American Woman to serve in Congress. ShePATSY MINK represented her Hawaiian districts in Congress for 12 terms and also served as Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. Patsy was a co-author of the Title IX Amendment of the Higher Education Act which demanded equality for women in all educational and activity programs that received Federal aid. It represented a sea-change in women’s athletics.

MAZIE HERONO        Mazie Herono holds many firsts:

–First Woman Senator from Hawaii (elected in 2013)

–First Asian-American Woman elected to the U.S. Senate

–First U.S. Senator born in Japan

–First Buddhist to serve as Senator

SEAL OF HAWAII       The state motto of Hawaii, which appears on its state seal,  is “Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ‘Aina I ka Pono.” This roughly translates as “The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness.” We know that is due in part to some of the righteous women who made and are still making strides forward for themselves and all the women they represent.

Christa McAuliffe – Teacher, Astronaut

Christa McAuliffe’s birthday was September 2nd. It seems appropriate to include her here as the school year begins.

CHRISTA MCAULIFFEChrista McAuliffe’s First Woman To. . .achievement was made possible by President Ronald Reagan when he decided that the first civilian in space should be a teacher. As he put it, they are “America’s finest.” The application was requested by 45,000 teachers, but only 11,000 completed the lengthy form. From that group the number was reduced to ten who then trained and competed for the slot.

Christa McAuliffe’s proposal for her program in space was not the most ambitious among the applicants. It was, in fact, rather simple. She would keep a journal of her adventure and share it. While preparing a class for her high school students on the American Woman, she was inspired by the personal journals of women who pioneered the West. She believed that, as a pioneer in space, she should preserve this tradition. She was convinced that social history is enriched by “diaries, travel accounts and personal letters.” According to her mother, Christa believed that “history wasn’t made by presidents and kings and politicians and wars, that it was common man that really had the big part of history.” Just as she encouraged her students to interview their parents and grandparents about their lives, she wanted to preserve her own life for her children.

Field trips and speakers from outside were always part of her classes and she saw the journey into space as the ultimate field trip. On January 28, 1986, she was launched into space. McAuliffe had always believed in dreams. She was convinced that even a C student could become a poet. Her poem was cut short that day when the shuttle exploded 73 seconds into the launch.

Stunned students, watching on televisions in their classrooms and auditoriums across the country, learned a different lesson than the one she had wanted to teach that day. Their teachers must have struggled with the words to comfort and explain, but then teachers have always been skilled at helping children through difficulties. Not all of them are awarded with the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, as was Christa McAuliffe, but many of them are as courageous.

Afterword: Barbara Morgan, Christa McAuliffe’s backup for the space ride on Challenger, stayed with the space program and flew to the International Space Station aboard Endeavour in 2007.


In spite of the lengthy commercials, this video is worth the time:




Maryam-Mirzakhani-Iranian-Woman-Win-Math-Top-Prize copyMiryam Mirzakhani, a professor at Stanford University, was the first woman and the first Iranian to earn the Fields Medal, the highest recognition in mathematics. Her understanding of the symmetry of curved surfaces was noted in her award. Before she entered college, in 1994, she had already achieved a first: the first Iranian woman to win a gold medal in the International Mathematical Olympiad. The following year, she was the first Iranian student (male or female) to earn a perfect score and win two gold medals.

Becky Hammon was named assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs. Although she is the second female assistant coach hired by the NBA, she is the first hired on a full-time basis. This makes her first in any of Becky-Hammon-Wallpapers-Latestthe four major professional sports (baseball, basketball, football and hockey).

kacy-1405606299Kacy Catanzaro, who is also known as Mighty Kacy, was the first woman to qualify for the finals on American Ninja Warrior. A gymnast, she is only five feet tall and weighs only 100 pounds. She proves that power is not related to size.


And. . .Mo’Ne Davis was the first girl to pitch a first shutout in Little League history (see my last blog).

Grace Hopper – Computer Pioneer

“A ship in port is safe; but that is not what ships are built for. Sail out to sea and do new things.” [Grace Hopper]

GRACE HOPPERGrace Hopper was first in areas where men had not even trod before. She refused to believe that a computer could only perform arithmetic and was incapable of doing programs. She also shrugged at the warning that if she developed a compiler-based programming language, everyone would be able to program computers. 

Grace Hopper’s father was not a wealthy man and knew he could not leave an inheritance for his children, so he provided them with an education that would allow them to support themselves. He believed strongly that daughters should have the same education opportunities as sons and encouraged Grace not to worry about traditional feminine roles. She graduated from Vassar College in 1928, Phi Beta Kappa, with a BA in mathematics and physics. She accepted a teaching position at Vassar while she completed MA and PhD degrees in mathematics at Yale.

Her career path became clear when she enlisted in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) in 1943 and was commissioned as a lieutenant. She was assigned to work at Harvard University on the Ordnance Computation Project, using IBM’s Mark I computer, thought to be the largest digital computer in the United States at the time. For the rest of her life, until she was in her 80’s, she combined work in the military, industry, and academics.

She was only the third person to learn to program the Mark I computer and wrote a 500-page manual that established principles for computer operation. She also developed a compiler, a program that translates instructions written in English into code.

Grace Hopper was the first director of automatic programming for the Ecker-Mauchly Computer Corporation and worked on programming languages for UNIVAC, which operated 1,000 times faster than the Mark I. She was the primary designer for COBOL (Common Business Oriented Language), a programming language used by business and government. She also developed tools for converting non-standard COBOL languages into the standard version and documented her work in manuals that could easily be used by others.

In 1969 Grace Hopper received the first ever Computer Science Man-of-the Year Award from the Data Processing Management Association. In 1973 she became a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society. This marked two firsts as Grace Hopper was the first person from the United States to receive this honor and also the first woman from any country in the world to be so honored. She also received more than 40 honorary doctoral degrees, and a National Medal of Technology in 1991. After she became a Rear Admiral, the United States Navy named a guided missile destroyer the USS Hopper.

Grace Hopper said that she had “received many honors and I’m grateful for them; but I’ve already received the highest award I’ll ever receive, and that has been the privilege and honor of serving very proudly in the United States Navy.” It is fitting that she is buried at Arlington Cemetery.


Books on Grace Hopper: Grace Hopper: Navy Admiral and Computer Pioneer (Charlene W. Billings); Grace Hopper: Programming Pioneer (Nancy Whitelaw); Grace Hopper: Admiral of the Cyber Sea (Kathleen Broome Williams)

Online Biographies: and and (includes her military service record)

Photo of USS Hopper, named for Grace Hopper: – photo of USS Hopper


Grace Hopper is credited with saying, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission.” Does this advice apply more to women than to men?