Yale student protesters have succeeded in removing the name of a white supremacist from a residential college building, which will be rechristened after Grace Murray Hopper.
Hopper was a member of the team that in 1952 developed the A-0, the first “compiler,” which translates one computer language to another. She is considered one of the first three modern computer programmers. She earned her master’s degree from Yale in mathematics in 1930 and while teaching at Vassar College, she pursued a doctorate in mathematics and mathematical physics, which she earned in 1934.
After initially being rejected from World War II service for her “age and diminutive size,” Hopper took a leave of absence from Vassar to join the U.S. Naval Reserve in 1943. Working in the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University, Hooper helped program one of the first electromechanical computers. She also wrote the machine’s 561-page user manual.
Her mathematics background was useful in her work during the war. She helped compute rocket trajectories, calibrate minesweepers and created range tables for anti-aircraft guns. Hopper stayed at Harvard after the war and helped develop the second and third iterations of electomechanical computers, known as Mark II and Mark III.
She also coined the term “bug” in 1945 for a computer problem after she and her colleagues took apart a computer that wasn’t working properly. They discovered a moth inside.
Hopper left active Navy service in 1946 and moved to Philadelphia. There she helped develop A-0 and Flow-Matic, which was the first programming language to use English words as commands. But at age 60, Hopper was called back to active duty where she served until she retired at age 79. She died in 1992.
In 1996, the Navy commissioned the U.S.S. Hopper, a guided military destroyer, in her honor. In 2016, former President Barack Obama posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor.
Yale’s governing body reversed course on Saturday after originally declining to remove John C. Calhoun’s name from the residential college last spring. Yale President Peter Salovey said he believed the change was “the right thing to do on principle.”
“John C. Calhoun’s principles, his legacy as an ardent supporter of slavery as a positive good, are at odds with this university,” said Salovey, who called Calhoun a white supremacist but has resisted efforts to “erase history.” An advisory committee unanimously recommended the renaming.
Calhoun, the seventh vice president of the U.S. and a U.S. Senator, graduated in 1804 from Yale. He called slavery a “positive good” for African Americans. The residential college was named after him in 1931.
Salovey said he looks forward to promoting Hopper’s accomplishments on campus. In considering a replacement namesake for the building, Hopper’s name was mentioned more than any other.