"I Was Born With Curiosity" - Grace Murray Hopper In Her Own Words

Departments: Computer Science

For her book, Women of Wisdom: Talks With Women Who Shaped Our Times, author Lynn Gilbert interviewed 42 women about their lives and their work. Among them was Grace Murray Hopper, computer science pioneer, Naval officer, and Yale alumnus. Her many accomplishments received renewed attention earlier this year with the news that the former Calhoun College would be renamed in her honor. Go here to to read the entire chapter on Hopper from the book.

And here is Gilbert describing her meeting with Hopper:

My Memory of Grace Murray Hopper 

A giant of the technology revolution, a pioneer who envisioned the first programming language forever changing the world, this diminutive, 73-year-old woman greeted me in her equally diminutive sub-basement office.

When I met Grace Murray Hopper in 1978 at the Pentagon, she had come out of retirement.  I descended to her office in a freight elevator and walked down a long dimly lit corridor, where paint was peeling off the walls and golf carts were stacked with equipment. 

The small ordinary door which opened onto her office, revealed a tiny space with two desks, one for her and one for her secretary. The shelves behind her desk were filled with books, a flag, a clock that went counter clockwise, and awards. One memento, a ceramic figurine, represented a gremlin that could get into computers. She found a moth in a machine and coined the term computer bug.

Several other cubicles were filled with a variety of computers, one large, others looking like typewriters. She showed me a picture of a 51-foot unit and said, “One day small computers will perform the same tasks as large ones.” 

A strong, no-nonsense woman, dressed in a black pantsuit (unusual for women in the seventies) and with a net covering her neat white hair, Hopper was at ease, direct, and warm, with a faint smile. She spoke gently.     

At the time the category “Women in Science” did not exist in the libraries and, of course, neither did the internet. I unearthed pioneering subjects in science by using the yellow pages and calling scientific associations and organizations.

Grace Murray Hopper’s brief oral biography is one of 42 chapters in my book “Women of Wisdom,” about women who blazed new paths in fields traditionally open only to men. At the end of our meeting, this extraordinary woman said, “Thank you for thinking of me.”

- Lynn Gilbert