Hop to It!
We tend to think of retiring military officers as being in their late forties or early fifties. Some retire even earlier, having entered military service at the age of eighteen or twenty-one and then serving twenty years before retiring. The US Navy, though, actually had four officers who served into their eighties and two served on active duty for life due to their promotions as fleet admirals.
During World War II, women had the opportunity to enlist and many did, forgoing their jobs in order to do so. My own mother was one such patriot who gave up a teaching career to enlist in the US Army. One particular young woman also enlisted. She had first been denied and then later accepted to her first choice for college at Vassar. She later earned a masters and doctorate at Yale University and returned to Vassar to teach mathematics. She took a leave of absence from Vassar in 1943 and, after obtaining an exemption for being too thin, she enlisted in the US Navy’s women’s corps known as the WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service). After several tours and retirements, she would retire as the oldest active-duty commissioned officers in the United States Navy at the age of seventy-nine years, eight months, and five days.
Grace Murray Hopper was a most curious child. Her mother restricted her at the age of seven to dismantling only one alarm clock at a time. Grace, you see, had actually torn apart seven in order to determine how they worked before her mother realized her actions. This curiosity would serve her well during World War II.
Grace was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University. She coauthored a series of papers regarding the Mark I computer programming. She would go on to invent computer programming language that we all know as COBOL and FORTRAN. IN the 1970’s Grace Hopper advised the Department of Defense they needed to downsize their massive mainframe computers. She foresaw replacing the large centralized systems with networks of smaller computers. These small computers would have easily accessible databases that users could utilize from their own workstations. This also necessitated the standardization of programming language among major computer vendors.
The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is the largest gathering of women in technology in the world. She epitomizes the potential of each woman today and is the reason we should encourage young girls to participate in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics as well as the arts.
“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.”
Grace Murray Hopper is a role model for us all regardless of whether we are in computers or technology or simply sitting at home reading a blog post. We need to remind ourselves that we can do this thing called life.