New Yale Colleges

Grace Hopper Posted In: Profiles

Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper—or “Amazing Grace” to those familiar with her many accomplishments—was a pioneering mathematician and computer scientist. She was the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University, and one of the first women to reach the rank of admiral in the U.S. Navy. Though Admiral Hopper faced many obstacles as a woman in many male-dominated fields, she never let them faze her indefatigable spirit.

Hopper College Shield

The Hopper shield highlights both Grace Hopper’s illustrious career in the Navy as well as her amazing contribution to computer science. The bars at the top symbolize her invention of the first compiler to translate language into computer code; the anchor and star signify her rank as Rear Admiral; and the laurels represent her lifelong commitment to academia.

Since Yale College was not co-educational when Hopper was ready for college at 17, she attended Vassar College. Despite failing the entrance exam in Latin (which delayed her matriculation for a year), Hopper graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a double major in math and physics. After finishing her bachelor’s degree, Hopper received a fellowship to Yale University where she completed her M.A. in mathematics in 1930. While teaching at Vassar, she finished her dissertation in 1934.

At Vassar, Hopper was a popular professor who was both engaging and knowledgeable. She audited a variety of classes that allowed her to connect mathematics to various aspects of her students’ lives. During her sabbatical in the fall of 1941, Hopper studied partial differential equations under Richard Courant at NYU, which later became important in her work with the Navy.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor strongly inspired Hopper to enlist and serve her country. Initially rejected because of her small stature, Hopper convinced the Navy of her value as a mathematician and received an exemption. In 1943, Hopper obtained a leave of absence from Vassar to enlist in the Navy Reserve WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) Program. She graduated first in her class from the Naval Reserve Midshipman’s School at Smith College in 1944 and was assigned second in command at Harvard University’s Computation Lab under Howard Aiken.

Grace Hopper 1Despite Aiken’s initial disappointment at having a woman as his second in command, Hopper gained his trust and excelled because of her work ethic and natural leadership skills. Hopper and her team programmed the Mark I computer to solve ballistics equations for the war effort. Drawing on her training at NYU, Hopper and her team wrote code that proved uranium and plutonium could be used together to make a successful atomic bomb, the key finding that enabled the weapon to be used in WWII.

While she made an important contribution to the Manhattan project, Hopper’s greatest achievements are arguably in her contributions to the nascent field of computer science. She’s credited with inventing the subroutine and building the first compiler, both innovations that made computer science more accessible to programmers without a Ph.D. in mathematics or computer science.



  1. Josh Clapper • April 6, 2015

    The best choice for the new colleges - Rear Admiral Hopper would be an "amazing" namesake Reply

  2. Hillary Lutkus • April 6, 2015

    Yale could make such a powerful statement by naming one of the new residential colleges after Grace Hopper! Reply

  3. Gretchen Schmidt Bishay • April 15, 2015

    "Since Yale College was not co-educational when Hopper was ready for college at 17, she attended Vassar College." Your sentence implies that Admiral Hopper would have attended Yale College if she could have. There is a lot to be said for women's colleges. Do you have a citation supporting that Admiral Hopper wanted to attend Yale as an undergraduate? Reply

Leave a Reply

We encourage you to share your thoughts, concerns, and questions. Please be advised of the following terms of usage. In the spirit of openness and civility, we require that you use your full name when submitting a comment and that you indicate your Yale affiliation (e.g., college and year of graduation). If you do not use your full name and/or indicate your Yale affiliation, we reserve the right to remove any content that you submit. In addition, please note that you are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. We do not control the content posted. Nevertheless, we may monitor any user-generated content as we see fit and reserve the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user’s privilege to post content on the site.