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Who Was Ada Lovelace?

Today is Ada Lovelace Day, when people around the web will write about their favorite women in science and technology. But who was Ada Lovelace?Ada was born Augusta Ada Byron on December 10, 1815, the daughter of Anne Milbanke and the poet Lord Byron. Theirs was a tempestuous relationship and Anne ...

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Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (via wikimedia commons)




Today is Ada Lovelace Day, when people around the web will write about their favorite women in science and technology. But who was Ada Lovelace?



Ada was born Augusta Ada Byron on December 10, 1815, the daughter of Anne Milbanke and the poet Lord Byron. Theirs was a tempestuous relationship and Anne decamped with baby Ada to her parent's home a month after the birth. Byron soon left the country, and Ada never saw her father again.



Despite growing up in a wealthy family in England, Ada's childhood was not easy. She was often ill and became bedridden for an entire year after a bout with the measles. And she had to deal with the difficulties of being the daughter of one of the most famous men of the time, one with whom her mother was fighting, even with Byron hundreds of miles away on the European continent. Anne was an overprotective mother who raised her daughter to be as unlike the emotional Byron as possible. Ada was brought up not only to be a proper young lady of her class but also encouraged to follow her interests in science and mathematics.



In 1835 she married William King, Baron King (and later Earl of Lovelace), with whom she would have three children. Ada continued her interest in mathematics and science and met and corresponded with other scientists and mathematicians. One of these was Charles Babbage, who invented what are considered to be the first computers, the Difference Engine and the Analytical Engine. Babbage asked Ada to translate an Italian mathematician's memoir analyzing his Analytical Engine (a machine that would perform simple mathematical calculations and be programmed with punchcards), but Ada went beyond completing a simple translation. She wrote her own set of notes about the machine and even included a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers; this is now considered to be the first computer program.



But Ada's true potential in science and mathematics would never be known. Illness continued to plague her as an adult. She took months to recover from the birth of her second child, and she began having what she called heart or rheumatic attacks in the 1840s. By 1851 she was extremely sick with uterine cancer, from which she died at the age of 36 on November 27, 1852. She was laid to rest next to her father in the Byron vault in a church in Nottingham.
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About Sarah Zielinski
Sarah Zielinski

Sarah Zielinski is an award-winning science writer and editor. She is a contributing writer in science for Smithsonian.com and blogs at Wild Things, which appears on Science News.

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