Monday, April 1, 2013

Women's History Month - Dr. Grace Murray Hopper & Biddy Mason

Image via
Dr. Grace Murray Hopper was one of the earliest computer programmers and a leader in the field of software development concepts. In 1928 she graduated from Vassar College with a BA in mathematics and physics.

While an instructor at Vassar, she earned an MA in 1930 and a PhD in 1934 at Yale, one of four women in a doctoral program of ten students. In 1930, she married Vincent Foster Hopper. (He died in 1945 during World War II, and they had no children.) She joined the United States Naval Reserve in 1943 and was assigned to the Bureau of Ordnance Computation Project at Harvard University, where she worked at Harvard's Cruft Laboratories on the Mark series of computers. She also served as a senior mathematician, and as consultant and lecturer for the United States Naval Reserve.

She was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, and developed the first compiler for a computer programming language. She conceptualized the idea of machine-independent programming languages, which led to the development of COBOL, one of the first modern programming languages.

Hopper is credited with popularizing the term "debugging" for fixing computer glitches. After retirement from the Navy in 1986, she became a senior consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation, and continued working well into her eighties. Basically she helped write the basis for the languages that we, as consumers of digital media, take for granted and know exists…because the internet! And cats! Cats on the internet!

Oh, and in 1973, she became the first person from the United States and the first woman of any nationality to be made a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society.

_ _ _ _ _

Biddy Mason was a freed slave who did the majority of her social work in California. She was owned by a man named Robert Smith, and was freed by a judge as Smith moved to Texas, a state that still allowed slaves. Mason wound up in Los Angeles, and worked as a nurse and midwife.

She was one of the first African Americans to purchase land in the city. She also amassed a small fortune of nearly $300,000, which she donated much to other charities. Interestingly enough, part of the lot of land that she initially bought would be developed into the THE hub of commercial activity in Los Angeles. Biddy also fed and sheltered the poor, and visited prisoners.

Called by many, "Auntie Mason" or "Grandma Mason," she also was crucial in the foundation of a black children’s elementary school, and was a founding member in 1872 of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church, the city's first black church. The organizing meetings were held in her home on Spring Street, and she also donated the land on which the church was built. 


Wrapping up Lauren's series on Women who ROCK for Women's History Month.

No comments: