She was the daughter of a legendary poet and nobleman and a mathematics-loving mother. She only lived 36 years.
But Ada Lovelace’s own legacy has come into its own, as historians have christened her as the “first computer programmer,” and a visionary in her own right.
Since 2009, a British group has declared Oct. 13 as “Ada Lovelace Day” – a day to commemorate the 19th century scientist, and other women in STEM fields.
“Many of our most successful women have never been given the credit they deserve, overshadowed by the men that they worked with for no better reason than that it was just ‘how things were,’” according to the originators of the commemoration.
Lovelace was born in 1815, to Annabella Milbanke and her husband, the Romantic poet George Gordon, Lord Byron. The volatile marriage quickly dissolved, and Milbanke fostered the scientific pursuits of her daughter to prevent her from engendering the “poetic” quirks of her father. The girl developed an early fascination with machines and mechanical designs.
She was married at 19 to a man who shortly thereafter became the Earl of Lovelace, making Ada a countess.
Introduced by an early mentor to Charles Babbage and his “analytical engine,” Lovelace became a professional collaborator with him and his team. When Babbage was asked to explain the machine’s workings, he asked the noblewoman to expand his writing into notes. Those notes she compiled totaled three times the length of the inventor’s own, entitled “Sketch of the Analytical Engine, with Notes from the Translator.”
Though the “analytical engine” and its punchcard mechanical system were never built in the 19th century, the Lovelace writings would apparently inspire Alan Turing and his computational breakthroughs more than a century later.
Lovelace died from cancer a few years after the work with Babbage, at the age of 36.
The Day to commemorate her began on a British civil pledge site in 2009 – and has since grown to encompass events held around the world involving thousands.
“We hope that, through taking part in Ada Lovelace Day and through reading the profiles others have published, everyone will learn about the amazing achievements of our unsung heroines,” said the organizers.
Oct. 13 is a randomly-picked day, they said. Lovelace’s birthday in December is too close to the holiday season, and celebrating her young death in November would not be appropriate, they added.