Grace Hopper & Margaret Hamilton Honored With Presidential Medal of Freedom
Written by Sue Gee   
Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Two women programming pioneers were among 21 recipients of the United States' highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, awarded by President Obama at today's ceremony at the White House.


According to President Obama in the announcement ahead of today's event:

"The Presidential Medal of Freedom is not just our nation's highest civilian honor - it's a tribute to the idea that all of us, no matter where we come from, have the opportunity to change this country for the better.  From scientists, philanthropists, and public servants to activists, athletes, and artists, these 21 individuals have helped push America forward, inspiring millions of people around the world along the way."

Recipients on this occasion, the final time that President Barak Obama is involved in their selection, include athletes Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabber, stars Diana Ross, Tom Hanks, Robert Redford and Robert de Niro, architect Frank Gehry and Bill and Melinda Gates for their philanthropic work.

There are two posthumous awards. One is Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet Tribal community leader and advocate for Native American self-determination and financial independence who inspired a new generation of Native Americans to fight for the rights of others. 

Grace Hopper, who died in 1992 but continues to be an inspiration for women in computing, is the other. The White House announcement reads:

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, known as “Amazing Grace” and “the first lady of software,” was at the forefront of computers and programming development from the 1940s through the 1980s. Hopper’s work helped make coding languages more practical and accessible, and she created the first compiler, which translates source code from one language into another.  She taught mathematics as an associate professor at Vassar College before joining the United States Naval Reserve as a lieutenant (junior grade) during World War II, where she became one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer and began her lifelong leadership role in the field of computer science. 


Grace Hopper's name is immediately recognizable, as "Mother of Cobol", the person responsible for the term computer bug and debugging and for her encouragement of younger generations of programmers. On the other hand, until recently few people knew of Margaret Hamilton, who at the age of 80 is CEO of Hamilton Technologies which continues to develop Universal Systems Language (USL). The announcement reads:

Margaret H. Hamilton led the team that created the on-board flight software for NASA's Apollo command modules and lunar modules. A mathematician and computer scientist who started her own software company, Hamilton contributed to concepts of asynchronous software, priority scheduling and priority displays, and human-in-the-loop decision capability, which set the foundation for modern, ultra-reliable software design and engineering.hamiltonsq

During his presidency, Barak Obama has done a lot to promote K12 computer science education and to empower girls and minorities to have equal opportunities in the software industry. Honoring Grace Hopper and Margaret Hamilton consolidates this legacy. To know more about either of these pioneers see the links listed below.



More Information

President Obama Names Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Related Articles

Margaret Hamilton Pioneering Software Engineer

Margaret Hamilton Apollo and Beyond

Grace Hopper, The Mother of Cobol

Grace Hopper - Building On Her Legacy 

Women In Computing 


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