Ada Lovelace

“Your best and wisest refuge from all your troubles is in your science.”

Ada Lovelace, British Mathematician, 1815-1852

Ada Lovelace, the Countess of Lovelace, is known as one of the first computer programmers in history, having created an algorithm for the first general-purpose computer, called the Analytical Engine. She recognized that this invention of Charles Babbage’s could do more than simply calculate—it could potentially compose music, for example—and thus created the very first computer program. 

She was also the estranged daughter of the aristocratic Romantic poet Lord Byron. In her short 36-year lifespan her impact on science and technology was profound, and she continues to be an inspiration to women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) to this day. Even the Pentagon and U.S. Military named their computing language “Ada.”

Lovelace was born in London, England and was educated by her mother and private tutors to excel in mathematics. Her brilliant but unstable father abandoned the family when she was one month old, and she never knew him (he died in Greece when she was eight). It is believed that Lovelace’s mother steered her toward the sciences so she would not become a rogue poet like her father. It must have worked, as throughout her career, Lovelace was vocal about her love of science, calling it her “religion,” her “language” and her “refuge.”  She wrote the very first paper on computer science in 1841 based on the Analytical Engine.

Lovelace was skilled at free-association and believed that imagination had a lot to do with problem solving in maths and sciences. She also believed in scientific rigour and collaboration – her pioneering work with Babbage a case in point. Babbage described her as an “enchantress of numbers.”

In 1835, at the age of 19, Ada married William King, the Earl of Lovelace, with whom she would have three children between 1836 and 1839. While higher education was not accessible to women at the time, she formed a bond with fellow mathematician Mary Somerville, and they corresponded about math. Lovelace’s health soon deteriorated and she was prescribed opiates for pain for many years. She died of what is presumed to be uterine cancer and was buried at her request in Nottingham—right next to her father.


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