Stem Heroine: Ada Lovelace

"Ada Lovelace portrait" by Alfred Edward Chalon - Science & Society Picture Library. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

Ada Lovelace was born on December 10, 1815.  This remarkable, forward-thinking heroine is credited as the first computer programmer.

Though the daughter of a famous poet, Lord Byron, Ada’s mother made sure that her daughter developed skills in logic, mathematics, and sciences to counteract her father’s influence. Labeled mad, bad, and dangerous to know, Lord Byron’s short and turbulent marriage to Lady Anne Isabella Milbanke ended one month after Ada’s birth.

As a precocious child, Ada developed a fascination with machines, and her mother had the means to make sure that her daughter studied with the best scientific and mathematical minds. She had many renowned tutors, most of whom where learned men, but one tutor and mentor, the Scottish astronomer Mary Somerville, showed Ada that a woman could succeed in science and math.

At the age of seventeen, Ada met another important mentor, the mathematician and inventor, Charles Babbage. He introduced her to his designs for two mechanical adding machines that he would never build: the Difference Engine and the Analytic Engine. These early pre-computer prototypes captivated the imagination of young Lovelace.

http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/objects/computing_and_data_processing/1878-3.aspx

Trial Model of Babbage’s Analytic Engine on display at the Science Museum

Ada married the Earl of Lovelace, making her the Countess of Lovelace, but she continued to pursue her passion for machines and math. At the age of twenty-eight, she published a translation of an article about Cabbage’s Analytic Engine. She added her own material and ideas to the original work making her translation three times longer than the original. She included detailed instructions for how an algorithm could be used on the Analytic Engine to produce the Bernoulli number sequence. These instructions are considered the first form of computer programing.

She also foretold how the Analytic Engine could produce even greater and more complicated outcomes including graphics and music. These groundbreaking ideas made little noise in the scientific and mathematical community during her short life-time.

Ada Lovelace suffered from a multitude of medical issues including childhood migraines, measles, cholera, asthma and digestive problems. She died at the age of thirty-six from uterine cancer.

In the 1950’s, her work was rediscovered and republished it in Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines. Since then, Ada Lovelace has become an inspiration to future generations of scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.

In Honor of Ada Lovelace Day, play our playbuzz game How Well Do You Know Your Historic Heroines.

 

About Kristen LePine
KRISTEN LEPINE is the co-founder and Executive Director of Historic Heroines. An accomplished writer, educator and mother, Kristen is often inspired by history and current events. She wrote about Nellie Bly and mental health care in CRACKED POTS, a play commissioned by Theatre J in Washington DC. Currently she is working on a historical novel set in ancient Sparta. Visit her at www.kristenlepine.com.
%d bloggers like this: