[Ads-l] Grace Murray Hopper Honored by Yale

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sat Feb 11 22:55:30 EST 2017

> On Feb 11, 2017, at 10:40 PM, Shapiro, Fred <fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU> wrote:
> Yale University has announced that it is renaming the Calhoun College dormitory "Grace Murray Hopper College."  Honoring Hopper, an important pioneer in computer programming, is a great choice (as opposed to the unfortunate recent choice of the does-he-really-need-another-honor/what-is-his-connection-to-Yale Benjamin Franklin as the namesake of a new Yale college).

For those not in a position to decode Fred’s subtle embedded rhetorical question, Benjamin Franklin’s primary connection to Yale, which earned him the use of his name as eponym of one of the two residential colleges opening next year, is via Franklin Templeton Investments and its CEO Charles Johnson, a major donor to Yale.  As the Wikipedia entry puts it succinctly:

"Franklin was chosen at the behest of Charles B. Johnson, class of 1954, who had made the single largest gift in Yale's history. Johnson saw Franklin as a personal role model and was the chairman of Franklin Templeton Investments, a global investment firm named after Franklin. Johnson asked for its consideration but did not stipulate that Yale use the name. The naming decision was met with an outcry by students and faculty.”

Well, the college *could* have been named “Benjamin Franklin Templeton College”.  (When the naming of Franklin College was first announced, posters went up around campus featuring a photo of the Queen of Soul and the legend “Aretha Franklin College”.)

>  But I am curious whether Hopper's principal claim to popular fame, the colorful but wholly erroneous claim that she coined the term "bug" for defects in computer hardware or software, will be repeated by the media or Yale in connection with the naming.
I was waiting for it, but it didn’t figure in Yale President Peter Salovey’s account of Hopper’s career in connection with the naming—

A Legacy of Innovation and Service: Grace Murray Hopper

In selecting a new name for the college at the corner of College and Elm streets, Yale honors the life and legacy of Grace Murray Hopper. Hopper was an exemplar of achievement in her field and service to her country. As we considered potential namesakes, the trustees and I benefited from hundreds of unique naming suggestions made by alumni, faculty, students, and staff who either advocated for a name change to this college or submitted ideas for the names of the two new residential colleges. This community input was indispensable: Hopper’s name was mentioned by more individuals than any other, reflecting the strong feeling within our community that her achievements and life of service reflect Yale’s mission and core values.

A trailblazing computer scientist, brilliant mathematician and teacher, and dedicated public servant, Hopper received a master’s degree in mathematics (1930) and a Ph.D. in mathematics and mathematical physics (1934) from Yale. She taught mathematics at Vassar for nearly a decade before enlisting in the U.S. Navy, where she used her mathematical knowledge to fight fascism during World War II. A collaborator on the earliest computers, Hopper made her greatest contributions in the realm of software. In 1952 she and her team developed the first computer language “compiler,” which would make it possible to write programs for multiple computers rather than a single machine. Hopper then pioneered the development of word-based computer languages, and she was instrumental in developing COBOL, the most widely used computer language in the world by the 1970s. Hopper’s groundbreaking work helped make computers more accessible to a wider range of users and vastly expanded their application. A naval reservist for twenty years, she was recalled to active service at the age of 60. Hopper retired as a rear admiral at the age of 79, the oldest serving officer in the U.S. armed forces at that time.

The recipient of Yale’s Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal, the National Medal of Technology, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, “Amazing Grace” Hopper was a visionary in the world of technology. At a time when computers were bulky machines limited to a handful of research laboratories, Hopper understood that they would one day be ubiquitous, and she dedicated her long career to ensuring they were useful, accessible, and responsive to human needs. An extraordinary mathematician and a senior naval officer, Hopper achieved eminence in fields historically dominated by men. Today, her principal legacy is all around us—embodied in the life-enhancing technology she knew would become commonplace. Grace Murray Hopper College thus honors her spirit of innovation and public service while looking fearlessly to the future.

So far so good.  


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