Ada Lovelace: The ‘Enchantress of Numbers’
Published 12:52 pm Saturday, September 28, 2019
I can thank the PBS show “Victoria” for introducing Ada Lovelace to me. Lovelace was born Augusta Ada Byron on Dec. 10, 1815, the only child of parents Lord Byron, a famous poet and Anne Isabelle Milbanke in London, England.
Shortly after her birth her parents divorced after an unhappy marriage. Lord Byron left England and Lovelace never saw him again. He died in Greece when she was only eight years old.
Even though Lovelace was an aristocrat her mother insisted that she be taught mathematics and science to ensure that she would not develop poetic tendencies like her father. Women in that period did not engage in studies of this nature. Lovelace took to the study of math developing a love for it.
As a teen, her aptitude for ingenuity was born — she made a design for a flying machine. Not only was Lovelace adept at math but she had developed a love for languages. Her talent for numbers and languages steadily developed as she received her education from her private tutors William Friend, a social reformer, William King, the family doctor and Mary Somerville, a Scottish astronomer and mathematician.
In 1833 Lovelace’s educational pursuits were amplified when at age 17 she met Professor Charles Babbage, a mathematician and inventor who taught at Cambridge. Because of him Lovelace began studying advanced mathematics with Augustus de Morgan, a professor at the University of London. Babbage invented the difference machine which performed mathematical calculations. This fascinated Lovelace who got to see the machine up close before it was completed. In addition, Babbage created an analytic engine which was designed to complete more complex calculations.
Lovelace was asked to translate an article about the machine written in French, in a Swiss journal, by Italian engineer Luigi Federico Manabrea into English. Lovelace added her own theories and notes about the device. Her theory described how codes could be developed for the machine to handle letters and symbols as well as numbers.
A process called looping, that is used in computer programming today, was a theory developed by Lovelace. Her work was published in 1843 in an English science journal under the initials A. A. L. for Augusta Ada Lovelace. Lovelace’s ideas would eventually wind up in computer generated music used today. Because of her immense contributions in math and information technology, Lovelace was considered the first computer programmer and nicknamed the “enchantress of numbers.”
In 1835 Lovelace married William King and when he inherited a noble title in 1838 they became Earl and Countess of Lovelace. The couple had three children and shared a love of horses. King was supportive of his wife’s accomplishments. As with many others Lovelace’s achievements in math and computer science were recognized years after her death. Sadly, on Nov. 27, 1852, she died from uterine cancer in London. She was buried next to her father Lord Byron in the Church of St. Mary Magdalene’s cemetery in Nottingham, England.
The legacy of Lovelace in the computer science field wasn’t acknowledged until the 1950s. Her notes were revealed to the world by B. V. Bowden who republished them in “Faster Than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines” in 1953. In the past 60 years Lovelace has received many honors posthumously and in 1980 the U. S. Department of Defense named a newly developed computer language “Ada” after her.
Lovelace is a true pioneer and inspiration to young women who took math, languages and computer science and used them not as a shield from the poetic world as her mother intended but as tools to influence how calculations are done, how music is performed and how we can defend our country.
Women have always known what women can do. Just stand back and watch how we work.
Judy Moore is a tour guide at The Central High Museum and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.