Augusta Ada King-Noel, Countess of Lovelace (née Byron; 10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852) was the only legitimate child of the poet George Gordon, Lord Byron, and his wife Anne Isabella Milbanke, Lady Wentworth.
Her mother had her educated from childhood in science and mathematics in an attempt to counteract any “poetical” tendencies (read: “insanity”) she may have inherited from her father. In an age when it was thought that women’s brains were not capable of understanding the difficult subjects of science and mathematics, she mastered differential calculus while still in her teens. At the age of 12, she began to think about how she would design a steam-powered flying machine. After studying the anatomy of birds to help her understand the mechanics of flight, she recognized the necessity that the wings be in proportion to the size of the body and where the steam engine should be located to provide power. Her design anticipated many of the mechanical and technical problems, and preceded the aerial steam carriage, patented by William Henson and John Stringfellow in 1842, by 15 years.
Two of her tutors were Augustus De Morgan, a mathematician at the forefront of the emerging field of symbolic logic, and Mary Somerville, the Scottish astronomer and mathematician who had become famous in 1831 when she published The Mechanism of the Heavens, a translation of the five volume Mécanique Céleste by Pierre-Simon Laplace.
In 1833 Mary Somerville introduced Ada to another mathematician, Charles Babbage. Ada was 17 and Babbage was 42. It was a friendship that would change Ada’s life.
Known as the father of the computer, he invented the Difference Engine, which was meant to perform mathematical calculations. Ada got a chance to look at the machine before it was finished, and was captivated by it. Babbage also created plans for another device known as the Analytical Engine, designed to handle more complex calculations.
Ada was later asked to translate an article on Babbage’s Analytical Engine that had been written by Italian engineer Luigi Federico Menabrea for a Swiss journal. She not only translated the original French text into English, but also added her own thoughts and ideas on the machine. Her notes ended up being three times longer than the original article. Her work was published in 1843, in an English science journal. Ada used only the initials “A.A.L.,” for Augusta Ada Lovelace, in the publication.
In her notes, Ada described how codes could be created for the device to handle letters and symbols along with numbers. She also theorized a method for the engine to repeat a series of instructions, a process known as looping that computer programs use today. Ada also offered up other forward-thinking concepts in the article. For her work, Ada is often considered to be the first computer programmer.
So, for all those obnoxiously misogynist computer geek/nerd/trolls out there. Guess what? Computers have had girl cooties all over them from the very beginning. Girl Cooties!!
3 thoughts on “Happy Ada Lovelace Day”
This is wonderful! I’ve had Ada lurking around in my files and just never got around to posting about her. I’m glad you did. For some reason, I thought her day was in March, so it’s good to have that straightened out. (I went looking, and did have her day as March 24. Some people apparently do celebrate then — here’s a linkie.)
I haven’t heard a reference to girl cooties in ages. Oh, what a terrible thing they were! I wonder which came first — the expressions about cooties, or the game with the plastic cootie-bugs?
I follow a blog called 2-D Goggles, by Sidney Padua, whose graphic novel “Lovelace and Babbage” was nominated for the Eisner Award. She very heavily researched Lovelace, Babbage and another great Victorian nerd, Isombard Kingdom Brunnel, while she was writing/drawing the GN, and you will hear her mentioned in one of the videos I linked to. It was she who tipped me to Ada Lovelace Day, which is in October and celebrates women in the sciences. The graphic novel, which I have purchased, is factual, funny and hilariously Victorian. The artwork is also fabulous.
Ada Lovelace was certainly s very intelligent and intellectually talented woman. It is appropriate that a major programming language, Ada, was named in her honour.