Badass Woman of the Month – August: Lovelace by Name Loves Maths by Nature

Ada Lovelace was born in early December 1815; as a disappointment. Her father, Lord Byron, who had just married Ada’s mother, Anne Isabella Milbanke, was expecting a “glorious boy”. Mere months later at the end of a marriage even Kim Kardashian would consider short, Byron signed a Deed of Separation and left England for good, he would never see Ada again.

Ada Lovelace
Also loving the do’ Lovelace

Ada’s early life was by anyone’s definition heartbreaking: she lost her father, had to suffer the neglect of a distant mother who would refer to her as “it”, had headaches so bad they obscured her vision and was temporarily disabled after a bout of measles. The universe chucked a lot of shiz at her but by twelve she was ridiculously intelligent and healthy and, like any right minded twelve year old girl, she decided she wanted to fly. I know what you’re thinking: normal so far but her first step was to investigate the construction of wings by researching different materials and sizes. She then made extensive examinations of the anatomy of birds to determine the right proportion between the wings and the body. And then she wrote a book called Flyology illustrating her findings,  including a final step of integrating steam into the design. She was twelve years old! Twelve! Twelve I tell you.

In her twenties she set up a gambling syndicate with a bunch of mates which resulted in an ambitious attempt to create a mathematical model for successful large bets. Then she moved onto more serious pursuits, when in 1833 she met Charles Babbage, the inventor of the first computer, they bonded over discussions of his Difference Engine. They became total bezzies and he called her “The Enchantress of Numbers”, which is possibly the most bitchinest nickname to have been given to anyone ever. Faraday, one of the most influential scientists in history, would later nickname her “Enchanted Maths Fairy” which as backup nicknames go is also pretty rad.

At 27 Ada translated an Italian discussion of Babbage’s Analytical Engine in which she not only had to explain the Analytical Engine’s function, but also how it varied from the Difference Engine,  at a time when other scientists had not a god damn clue what any of this stuff even meant in English let alone Italian. In these notes she writes in detail, an algorithm for calculating on the Analytical Engine, which is the first ever computer program. Yeah, you read that right. The first ever computer program. Ada Lovelace was the first ever computer programmer! Yeah, bitch she was. In 1842. And what?! Want to know what else? She pointed out to Babbage an error he had made in his equations: she noticed the first ever computer bug. At twenty seven years old.

Lovelace also predicted (disagreeing with Babbage) that computers would be able to perform far more complex tasks than just arithmetic, suggesting that one day computers would produce music and images and what do you know? We’ve only gone and reached a point where literally any old moron can post a comment on the Daily Mail website. Her unparalleled understanding of computing would remain unappreciated for one hundred years until her notes would become one of the critical documents to shape Alan Turing’s work on the first modern computers.

In non-maths news she was also pretty lols, she wrote of Byron’s poetry: “I shall be a better analyst than my father ever was a poet!” which just goes to show she could throw some serious shade. However a few short years after the publication of her notes at the crushingly young age of 36 on the 27th November 1852 she died of cancer. At her request she was buried next to the father she had never known.

Ada Lovelace, our Badass Woman of the Month, we salute you.

Blog post by Jodie Major for Shoreditch Sisters WI