Yale Renames Calhoun College After Grace Hopper, a True Trailblazer

Commodore Grace M. Hopper, USN (covered).
Image via Wikimedia Commons

 

After years of urging from students and community members alike, Calhoun College at Yale University has received a new name to replace the dedication of John Calhoun, a known white supremacist. Calhoun, a South Carolina native and Yale graduate of 1804, served as vice president under Presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. The school dedicated the college to Calhoun when it opened in 1933.

Yale students lobbied for the college’s name to be changed since at least 1992, when seniors erected a plaque noting Calhoun’s history of advocating for white supremacy, slavery and states’ rights.

Finally, on Feb. 11, Yale officials announced the residential college’s new name, Hopper College, which honors Grace Murray Hopper, a late United States Navy computer scientist and Yale graduate and associate professor.

C Credit: Unknown (Smithsonian Institution)

Hopper doin’ werk. Credit: Wikimedia Commons (Smithsonian Institution)

Born in New York City in 1906, Hopper was a curious child and excelled at a preparatory school in Plainfield, New Jersey. She went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in physics and mathematics from Yale in 1928, a master’s degree in 1930 and a Ph.D. in mathematics in 1934. Hopper began teaching mathematics at Yale’s Vassar College in 1941.

At 34 years old, she was denied entry into the U.S. Navy during World War II because she was too old to enlist, among other reasons. Nevertheless, she persisted, and was enlisted in the Navy Reserves in 1943.

Hopper eventually served on Harvard Mark I, a team operating “the first big computer” during the end of the war. As one of the country’s first computer programmers, pundits began calling her the “queen of code” as she worked on computers standing eight feet tall. The computer industry also heralds Hopper as the originator of the term “bug” when noting a computer problem.

Hopper remained at the Harvard Computation Lab until 1949, before accepting a position as senior mathematician at the Eckert Computer Corporation. In 1954, the corporation promoted Hopper as the their first director of automatic programming.

She even appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, where Letterman called her a “charming” woman. She killed it, by the way.

In 1966, Hopper retired from the Naval Reserve at 60 years old with the rank of commander.

However, it was obvious Hopper hated retirement.

She returned to active duty in 1967 for six months and again in 1972 to serve several positions, including captain. She served for a few more years after receiving special approval from Congress to avoid mandatory retirement. In 1986, at 79 years old, Hopper was forced to retire days before her 80th birthday.

Upon her retirement, she was honored with countless awards.

Some include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal (1986), the Golden Gavel Award (1988) and the National Medal of Technology (1991). In November 2016, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Among hundreds of suggested names, Yale President Peter Salovey said Hopper’s name was mentioned most often, showing “the strong feeling within our community that her achievements and life of service reflect Yale’s mission and core values.”

Salovey called Hopper “an exemplar of achievement in her field and service to her country.”

“An extraordinary mathematician and a senior naval officer, Hopper achieved eminence in fields historically dominated by men,” said Salovey. “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.”

Hooper died of natural causes at the age of 85 in 1992.

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