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All Posts, P&S History

Women’s History Month – Beverley Adams

5 facts about Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace is a name synonymous with computers but there was so much more to her than mathematical calculations. She was a pioneer, she dared to enter the male dominated arena of science and mathematics in the Victorian age and never once wavered and thought her gender was something to hold her back. So, what else is there to know about Ada, Countess of Lovelace?

  1. She had a very famous father

In fact, at the time of her birth her father was one of the most famous men in the country. That man was the poet Lord Byron. Byron married Annabella Milbanke in 1815 at her parents’ home on the Durham coast. It was a marriage doomed from the start, Byron dreaded the marriage but he needed to wed to help save his tarnished image, there were some very unsavoury rumours flying around about his private life and a rich demure lady like Annabella would help no end. The signs were there from the start, Byron clung to his friend as the carriage pulled away from Seaham Hall whisking the couple on their honeymoon, or treacle-moon as Byron called it. Ada was born just over ten months later and spent just four weeks under the roof of her father’s London home before Lady Byron thought it best they leave which was a brave thing to do considering children belonged to their fathers and there was nothing the mother could do. Byron’s behaviour had become more and more erratic and he would leave England for good just weeks later and would never see his daughter again. He never forgot about Ada though and she was at the forefront of his mind when he died in 1824.

  1. She was very clever at maths

Not wanting her daughter to be influenced by her father or his work, Lady Byron banned all talk of him and encouraged Ada to embrace the more logical subjects of maths and science. Thankfully she saw the benefit of educating girls and hired the best tutors to teach her. One evening she visited the home of Charles Babbage where she came upon the prototype for his latest invention, the Difference Engine, she was one of the few people in the room that fully grasped the machine and its capabilities so years later when the successor to Difference Engine was designed Ada was invited to translate the notes of Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea. She spent nine months working through the notes for the Analytical Engine when she realised it was capable of so much more than simple addition, she created a method that could calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers, this became the first computer algorithm. Alan Turing referred to these notes during the Second World War.

  1. She has a day name after her

Ada Lovelace Day takes place on the second Tuesday of October and is used to encourage the roles of women within the Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) arenas. Ada is seen as a pioneer for women who want to enter the male dominated areas of science and technology. It also celebrates and heightens the profiles of the women who currently work within STEM and thereby create some new role models and show young girls they too can have a successful and rewarding career in these industries.

  1. She had a gambling addiction

Despite her best efforts, Lady Byron was disappointed to learn her daughter had developed the very ‘Byronic’ trait of addiction. Ada became hooked on the horses and was very soon gambling at the races. She thought she had come up with a mathematical way of calculating which horse would win and had managed to persuade a group of wealthy men to join her syndicate convincing them she had cracked the formula for victory. Sadly, she was wrong and managed to amass debts of thousands which her ever forgiving husband paid for her. What she failed to grasp was that she had no control over certain aspects of the race, the horse could fall, what the ground conditions would be or that the jockey could be unseated. It was not just the horses she was addicted to, sadly Ada suffered from ill health for most of her life and as she got older suffered immense pain so the doctors prescribed laudanum but she became addicted to this and alcohol in a bid to keep her physical and mental health under control.

  1. She died young

Ada, Countess of Lovelace died at the age of just 36, the same age as her father, from uterine cancer. She had fought a long and agonising battle against the disease but sadly she died in the evening of 27th November 1852. Whilst on her death bed Ada confessed something to her husband that caused him to leave her side, he returned only at the very end as she breathed her last. It was more than likely the confession of an extra marital affair, their marriage was one of mutual respect and friendship but never of romantic love, at least not on her part. By her side at the end was her mother, her children had been and said their goodbyes, Charles Dickens had been to read to her but at the very end it was her mother that she clung to. She was buried alongside her father in the Byron vault at the parish church in Hucknall, near Newstead Abbey, Notts.

Order your copy of Ada Lovelace here.