The 60 Minutes interview with Grace Murray Hopper

Yale erased the name of a white supremacist on campus and replaced him with a woman - a feisty, brilliant computer scientist nicknamed "Amazing Grace"

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On Saturday, Yale University president Peter Salovey announced that the Ivy League school will rename a residential college to honor one of the institution’s most distinguished alumni, Grace Murray Hopper. The residence is currently named for John Calhoun, the 19th-century white supremacist statesman from South Carolina.

Grace Murray Hopper, 1983 CBS News

“The decision to change a college’s name is not one we take lightly, but John C. Calhoun’s legacy as a white supremacist and a national leader who passionately promoted slavery as a ‘positive good’ fundamentally conflicts with Yale’s mission and values,” Salovey said in an announcement.

Rear Admiral Hopper, who earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale, was a pioneer both in computer science and in the United States Navy. In 1983, 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer interviewed Hopper, who at the time held the distinction of being the oldest officer in active service at 76.  

In the profile, playing in the video player above, Safer hit the highlights of Hopper’s life. A math whiz, she left her professor job at Vassar College when she was 36 to serve as a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve during World War II. She chose the Navy to follow in the footsteps of her great-grandfather, who was a rear admiral during the Civil War.

Assigned by the Navy to a computation project at Harvard, Hopper used her math genius to help program the very first computer, named Mark I. The rudimentary machine could only spit out what Safer called “indecipherable numbers,” so Hopper invented a way to transform it into language.  

Hopper foresaw the computer revolution. In 1983, though the computer had come a long way from Mark I, she compared the current model to the Model-T, acknowledging that the computer was still in its preliminary state.

Safer asked Hopper if she thought people could put too much trust in technology.

“People are scared of computers, just as I can remember there were people who were scared to death of telephones—wouldn’t go near them,” she said. “There were people that thought gaslight was safe but electric light wasn’t very safe. We’ve always gone through this, with every change.”

Hopper told Safer that the saddest day of her life was in 1966, when the Navy forced her to retire at age 60. But the next year, they called her back to active duty, and she happily returned.

“I’ve already received the highest award I’ll ever receive, no matter how long I live, no matter how many more jobs I have,” Hopper told Safer, “and that has been the privilege and the responsibility of serving very proudly in the United States Navy.”

After watching Hopper on 60 Minutes, then-Representative Philip Crane championed a joint resolution that led to her promotion to commodore, which she received by presidential appointment in December 1983. In 1985, the rank of commodore was renamed rear admiral (lower half).

Hopper died on January 1, 1992, and was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. On November 22, 2016, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.