Ada Lovelace – the first woman in computer science

It seems quite strange for a female computer programmer to look like this picture, dressed in an Epoque dress and sumptuous hairstyles. And yet it is so. She is Ada Lovelace, Augusta Ada Byron, her real name, and the daughter of the well-known British poet George Byron.

Although she had a famous father, Ada did not interact with him because her parents separated when she was only a few months old. The reason seems to have been the poverty of the family and the huge pressure of the bailiffs. Ada’s mother decided to leave the house because her husband was not poor, but just very wasteful with his income. Thanks to an inheritance, Lady Byron became one of the richest women in the United Kingdom.

She wanted her daughter to be educated in the spirit of the real sciences, especially mathematics, so as not to fall victim to her father’s fantasies and unrealistic way of life. Little Ada fell in love with mathematics and studied in private how much could be learned in those days in a home-schooling way of study. Ada married to William King and became Countess of Lovelace; the couple had two sons.

 In the first part of the 19th century, she meets the mathematician and engineer Charles Babbage and together they create the Analytical Engine, a machine that used data printed on cards to perform analyzes and mathematical operations – in today’s language, this can be considered the first project of a computer.

The collaboration was very difficult because, nowadays we are used to seeing and working with women performing in science, in those days the presence of a woman in such a workplace was totally unusual.

Although they were friends, the scientist Babbage has a biased judgment about intellectual women. Although Ada dedicated herself to the project, intellectually and financially, Babbage never considered her more than a mere “interpreter” of his work. It was very difficult for him to accept the young woman’s contribution to the creation of the Analytical Engine, and he even refused the financial help that Ada Lovelace offered to complete the machine. In their team, it was Charles who designed the mechanism, but it was Ada who could see its potential.

The mathematician’ stubbornness led to the failure of this grandiose project. Another hundred years had to pass before his dream was turned into reality by other scientists.

Ada died prematurely (36 yo), due to uterine cancer.

There is also a book that describes the history of the relationship between the two scientists, considered to be the pioneers of what we now call computer science: “Charles and Ada: The Computers Most Passionate Partnership”.

Photo: an illustration inspired by the A. E. Chalon portrait created for the Ada Initiative, which supported open technology and women

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