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Women’s History Month: Ada Lovelace

Women’s History Month: Ada Lovelace

February is Women's History Month. In order to honor some of the great contributions women have made to society I’m writing about great, little known women from history.

Last week I talked about Mileva Maric-Einstein and her achievements in the world of science.  

In watching the PBS series Victoria I became intregued by the portrayal of Ada Lovelace. After doing some research on her life and work I was amazed by how much her mathematical developments contributed to the computers we use today. 

As the daughter of famous romance poet, Lord Byron, to go from an upper class girl in the Victoria Era to world renowned inventor of the first computer is quite a leap!

Here are some more fascinating facts about Ada Lovelace.  


 It Was Her Mother’s Idea To Study Math

Lovelace’s mother believed a rigorous course of study rooted in logic and reason would enable her daughter to avoid the romantic ideals and moody nature of her father. From the age of 4, Lovelace was tutored in mathematics and science. This was unusual for a woman in 19th-century England when the idea of a “woman’s proper place” was at its height. 

 She Conceptualized A Flying Machine 

After studying the anatomy of birds Lovelace illustrated plans to construct a winged flying apparatus before moving on to think about powered flight. She wrote to her mother, “to make a thing in the form of a horse with a steamengine in the inside so contrived as to move an immense pair of wings, fixed on the outside of the horse, in such a manner as to carry it up into the air while a person sits on its back.” She came up with this idea at least 50 years before the Wright Brothers took the first motorized plane flight. 


 Charles Babbage Mentored Her 

 At 17 Lovelace met inventor and mathematician Charles Babbage the “father of the computer.” After becoming Babbage’s protégé, she translated into English an article written by military engineer Luigi Menabrea about Babbage’s theoretical analytical engine. Lovelace augmented the translation with her own notes about the analytical engine that were three times as long as the original paper and published in an English journal in 1843 with only her initials, “A.A.L.” In Note G of her elaborate paper, Lovelace wrote of how the machine could be programmed with a code to calculate Bernoulli numbers, which some consider to be the first algorithm to be carried out by a machine and thus the first computer program.

She Predicted The Modern Use For Computers 

Lovelace foresaw more for computers than just numbers. Babbage believed the use of his machines was confined to numerical calculations. Ada Lovelace disagreed and felt that any piece of content—including music, text, pictures and sounds—could be translated to digital form and manipulated by machine. Basically the iPhone! 

Personal Life

In 1835, Ada married William King, the Earl of Lovelace. She then took the title of Countess of Lovelace. They shared a love of horses and had three children together. He supported her continuing to pursue a mathmatical career in between her responsibilities as a mother and wife. Ada and her husband socialized with many of the interesting minds of the times, including the writer Charles Dickens.


 It Took A Century To Recognize Her Contributions

Lovelace’s ideas about computing were so far ahead of their time that it took nearly a century for technology to catch up. While Lovelace’s notes on Babbage’s analytical engine gained little attention at the time they were originally published in 1843, they found a much wider audience when republished in B.V. Bowden’s 1953 book “Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines.” As the field of computer science dawned in the 1950s, Lovelace gained a new following in the digital age.


During the 1970s, the U.S. Department of Defense developed a high-order computer programming language to supersede the hundreds of different ones then in use by the military. When U.S. Navy Commander Jack Cooper suggested naming the new language “Ada” in honor of Lovelace in 1979, the proposal was unanimously approved. Ada is still used around the world today in the operation of real-time systems in the aviation, health care, transportation, financial, infrastructure and space industries.


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