Senate Honors Trailblazing Women in Computer Science

Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper recognized by chamber

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., joined with his colleague Deb Fischer, R-Neb., to honor the two computer science pioneers. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Tucked away amid the back and forth of appropriations debate last week, the Senate honored two female trailblazers in math and computer science, adopting resolutions recognizing Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper.

Sponsored by Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden and Nebraska Republican Deb Fischer, the measures would designate Oct. 9, 2018, as “National Ada Lovelace Day” and honor the life and legacy of Hopper.

“Ada Lovelace and Grace Hopper were pioneers in STEM,” Fischer said in a statement introducing the legislation Wednesday, the day it passed. “More Nebraskans and more Americans should know about the lasting contributions they made to our nation and the world.”

President Barack Obama awarded Hopper the Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 2016 for her revolutionary work in computer code and her service to the Navy.

“While the women who pioneered software were often overlooked, the most prestigious award for young computer scientists now bear her name,” Obama said at the ceremony, referring to the annual Grace Murray Hopper Award for Outstanding Young Computer Professionals, established in 1971 by the Association for Computing Machinery. Hopper worked on some of the earliest computers ever made and is credited with popularizing the modern definition of “debugging.”

Lovelace is regarded by some as the first-ever computer programmer. She imagined the modern-day, general-purpose computer a century before computing entered daily modern life. Her writings on the potential of computing in the 1840s were groundbreaking.

An “extremely rare” leather-bound copy of Lovelace’s computer program was sold at auction Tuesday for nearly $125,000, according to The Guardian.

Although women comprise nearly 50 percent of our workforce, they make up less than 25 percent of workers in STEM professions. Wyden and Fischer both aim to inspire more women to enter growing STEM fields by recognizing historic women who paved the way.

“Their impact has too often been overlooked given that their work is the very foundation of our information society,” Wyden said in a statement.

From the Archives: Office Space — Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ Washington Tech Hub

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