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Ada Lovelace

Born: December 10, 1815 
Died: November 27, 1852 
Nationality: English 
Education: Learned from tutors at home 
Best known for: Mathematics and Computing 

Growing up when noblewomen learned subjects like Latin, Greek etiquette, literature, and how to run a household, Ada Lovelace set out on her own path and learned advanced mathematics. She is now considered the first computer programmer.

We know a little about algorithms now, but Lovelace wrote the first--near the beginning of the 19th century. She was taught by “the father of the computer”, the Brit Charles Babbage. And when a military engineer (who later turned into Italy’s prime minister), Luigi Menabrea, wrote about Babbage’s analytical engine, Lovelace translated the article and added her own notes (three times more than the original!). Her notes told how to program it, step by careful step. Along the way, she dealt with a father who disappeared and personal problems with gambling, all long before women could earn degrees.

Ada’s mom made her study math...lots of it!

Ada Lovelace was born in 1815 to the poet Lord Byron and Anne Milbanke, or Lady Byron. Her parents separated soon after, and her dad died only nine years later in Greece. Lady Byron herself loved math and was called “The Princess of Parallelograms.” She pushed her daughter hard. She hired many tutors to teach her (though she was often absent herself). The mother also made sure Ada met with the top minds of the time. All these meetings confirmed Lovelace’s intelligence while making her more confident and more assertive when dealing with her controlling mother. Ada’s mom even made her lie still for long periods--not taking a nap, but practicing self-control!

Are Computers Only for Number-Crunching?

When Lovelace finally learned about the big computing machine from her mentor Babbage, she could see (maybe even more than him) that his analytical machine could be used for more than just calculating. Ada was truly ahead of her time. She imagined that computers wouldn’t do just math but would compose art graphics and make music in the future too. Lovelace was multi-talented. She created musical compositions based on numbers, which she planned for the analytical engine to use someday.

Back then, many people had the same trouble as nowadays: lack of money meant that Babbage’s machine was never built. Then in 1852, Ada got sick and died at only 36. She left a husband and three children behind. People forget quickly too, and sure enough, Lovelace’s detailed notes on what we would call a computer program today were forgotten for about 100 years. In 1953, they were uncovered and published again, and Ada was back in the news. She finally got the credit she deserved for her computer advances. Before she left this world, Ada said, “That brain of mine is something more than merely mortal; as time will show.”

4 Mega-Amazing Facts about Ada Lovelace:

  1. Lovelace was tutored at home in math and science from the age of four, a significantly different course of study for a girl in 19th-century England.
  2. At age 17, Ada’s mentor Charles Babbage was called “the father of the computer” for his fantastic and gigantic calculating machine.
  3. Lovelace was buried next to a father she never knew. She didn’t know why her father left her, but she remained fascinated by his work.
  4. Ada’s revolutionary ideas about computing were only recognized a century after she died. Lovelace developed a new following in the digital age.
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