A statute does not just memorialize a person—by choosing who to honor, a community inherently projects its own spirit. Take, for instance, the statue of Frederick Douglass on 110th Street or The Immigrants at Battery Park. Or more recently, the Fearless Girl, erected in Lower Manhattan, which has pushed more than 150 companies to add women to their all-male boards and become an international symbol for women’s empowerment.
Unfortunately, the Fearless Girl joins five—only five!—other statues of women in New York City: Eleanor Roosevelt, Gertrude Stein, Golda Meir, Harriet Tubman, and Joan of Arc.
To that end, City Hall, under the leadership of Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen, has introduced the She Built NYC initiative. This important campaign calls on New Yorkers to nominate women they’d most like to see commemorated with a monument in the city. It’s a move that lets us praise New York’s most accomplished women, and it’s an opportunity for us to nominate a woman of our own.
Grace Hopper was a decorated United States Navy Admiral and computer scientist who both innovated her fields and represented the best of New York. A native of the Upper West Side, she achieved much in her lifetime, including being one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer—a groundbreaking device used by the United States during World War II.
Hopper’s achievements are almost too many to count. In addition to being an admiral, she was an esteemed mathematician, software engineer, and pioneer of what we now call COBOL—computer programming based on language rather than complex symbols. Her work revolutionized the business and technology worlds, and her work on a common programming language paved the way for computers to talk to each other instead of one-off programming for each computer built. For her work, she received nine military awards. Her other honors include being the first individual female recipient of the National Medal of Technology in 1991 and posthumously receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016 from President Obama.
A statue of Admiral Hopper is a worthy representation of the massive contribution by women to New York’s success. She is a uniquely accomplished female tech icon, and it’s important that we recognize her work as an affirmation of New York’s future as a global tech hub.
A statue for Grace Hopper doesn’t capture all of New York’s diversity by itself. But it’s surely a start, and we can think of no better New York woman to commemorate for generations to come.
This effort falls under the city’s broader Women.nyc initiative. You can follow the #SheBuiltNYC campaign on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. We encourage others to nominate additional historical New York women.