Female Scientists in History United Kingdom

Ada Lovelace: She Wrote The World’s 1st Computer Program [150 YEARS AGO]

Ada Lovelace: Who Was She?

Ada Lovelace (10 December 1815 – 27 November 1852) is best known for her work on Charles Babbage’s early mechanical computer, the Analytical Engine.

The daughter of poet Lord Byron and Anna Isabella Milbanke was eventually to become a leader in the fields of mathematics and science.

At only 17 years old she collaborated with Charles Babbage to craft algorithms for his Analytical Engine, making her the first person to recognize that computers can do more than just carry out calculations; they can be used to complete any task that could be expressed through mathematical instructions.

Her groundbreaking work paved the way for modern computer programming and making her an instrumental figure in technological development.

ada lovelace

Ada Lovelace: Her Childhood

Ada Lovelace, born in London on December 10th, 1815, is considered by many to be the first computer programmer in history.

She was the only legitimate child of Lord Byron and Anne Isabella Milbanke and was born as Countess as Augusta Ada Byron was in England.

Ada Lovelace was undeniably a prodigy.

Her parents, poet Lord Byron and Anne Isabella Milbanke, recognized her potential early on and provided her with a brilliant upbringing.

Lady Byron hired tutors to teach Ada math, science, and other topics beyond the scope of traditional education. This education was very rare at the time, when most women were denied even basic education.

Ada Lovelace age 4

However, her parents split when she was eight, and Lovelace grew up mainly with her mom.

Though her mother emphasized social and artistic pursuits like language and music, she was naturally drawn to problem solving.

Encouraged and tutored by family friend Mary Sommerville, Ada became an independent student of math and science.

An article she published at age 17 in the Encyclopedia Metropolitana caught the attention of British scientists, earning her respect from peers in academia.

Lovelace was sent to a girls’ boarding school in Yorkshire, but after a year she became severely ill with measles. This had a long-lasting affect on her physical and mental health for years afterwards; doctors warned Lady Byron that further education would be detrimental to Ada’s health so she instead educated herself from home through study and reading.

Ada Lovelace: Her Father Lord Byron’s Death

In June 1833, Lord Byron died suddenly from Fever in Messolonghi Greece while fighting against Ottoman Turkey in support of independence.

Grief stricken Annabella left England with Ada aged 17 to live abroad mainly in Italy where they hoped Ada’s fragile health would benefit from Mediterranean sunshine.

Annabella focused all her energies towards making sure that Ada avoided following in Lord Byron footsteps by steering clear of any involvement with poetry or romance novels.

Instead Annabella tried to encourage Ada into more serious scientific pursuits, but without success.

That is, until they met Mary Somerville who was popularizing science throughout Europe at the time.

It was here that Ada began to show some interest STEM pursuits especially Mathematics.

Ada Lovelace: Her Marriage To William King

In 1840, at age 25, Ada married William King, 8th Baron King (later created Earl Of Lovelace) and became Countess Of Lovelace.

Like her, King was a passionate pursuer of knowledge and he indulged his wife’s academic endeavors.

They were known to host intellectual salons in their home. Some notable guests were the well-known author, Charles Dickens, and the physicist Michael Faraday.

The couple had three accounts, and by all accounts, they were quite affectionate with each other.

Ada Lovelace, portrait drawn by Margaret Sarah Carpenter in 1836

Ada Lovelace: Her Work With Charles Babbage On the First Computer & Writing The First Computer Program

In 1833, she met Charles Babbage, who would later invent the first mechanical computer. They first met at one of Mary Somerville’s evening parties .

In 1842, she published an translation of Italian engineer Luigi Menabrea’s paper on Babbage’s newest proposed machine: The Analytical Engine.

In it ,Lovelace added extensive notes detailing how codes could be created for the device.

However, Babbage’s Analytical Machine never reached completion due partly to Babbage’s extreme ADHD and partly to lack of funding as investors grew impatient waiting for results that never came.

She was particularly interested in Charles’ Analytical Engine project and eventually wrote an algorithm for it.

This algorithm (which was one of the earliest autonomous machine-executable programs) has been called a pivotal moment in computing history, proving just how revolutionary her vision for computer science was.

It’s worth emphasizing just how revolutionary Lovelace algorithm was: when Babbage though his machine would be able to calculate specific algorithmic tasks, Lovelace was able to understand that the computing power would be able to “calculate” any task that one would program it to do. And all this, even before the machine was actually built!

Lovelace’s diagram from “note G”, the first published computer algorithm

Ada Lovelace: Later Life

Lovelace continued to use her mathematical skills all through life.

She was fond of gambling, and in her later years tried to use her mathematical skills to find ways to get rich from gambling. Sadly, she wasn’t able to find the correct algorithms to win consistently and ended up losing most of her money.

Ada Lovelace aka Augusta Ada Byron-1843 or 1850 a rare daguerreotype by Antoine Claudet. Picture taken in his studio probably near Regents Park in Londo

Ada Lovelace: Her Death

She died of uterine cancer on November 27, 1852 at the age of 36.

Even before her death, though, her health began to greatly detoriate.

In 1837, she become gravely ill with cholera. This led her to chronic digestive and breathing pains. Doctors tried to ease her pain by prescribing her opium, that at the time, was a common pain-killer.

Lovelace quickly become addicted and suffered from severe mood changes.

She is buried next to her father, Lord Byron, at the family’s plot in Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, England.

Ada Lovelace: Legacy

  • The US Department of Defense marked what would have been her 197th birthday by naming their new programming language “Ada”.
  • In 1981, the Association For Women In Math named their Yearly Prize the Ada Lovelace prize in her owner.

Ada Lovelace: Books Written About Her

If you want to learn more about Ada Lovelace, here are some great books to start with:

Ada Lovelace: Podcasts About Her

Lovelace has been the subject of numerous podcast episode telling her remarkable story. Here are links to some great podcasts episodes about Ada Lovelace.

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