9 October is Ada Lovelace Day, celebrating the contributions of women in STEM.
Augusta Ada Byron King, the Countess of Lovelace – better known as Ada Lovelace – is widely regarded as the world’s first computer programmer. She was born in London in 1815 to the poet Lord Byron and his wife Anne Milbanke, and – unusually for a girl of that era – was given a good education in mathematics and science.
That cursory training piqued an interest in science and mathematics that would never leave her. When she was 17, Lovelace met the esteemed British mathematician Charles Babbage, who she would frequently write to and occasionally meet with to exchange ideas throughout her life. In her late 20s, she spent several months translating an article the Italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea had written in French about one of Babbage’s proposals for a machine, the Analytical Engine (a forerunner of the modern computer).
It was this article that eventually secured Lovelace’s reputation as the first person to write an algorithm specifically designed for use on a computer, because she did much more than simply translate Menabrea’s article from French into English. Her notes were more than three times as long as his analysis, and when the English version of the piece was published in 1843, much of it was Lovelace’s own work. She added workings to show how Babbage’s machine could perform calculations on its own, and suggested that it had the potential to convert music, pictures and text into digital form.
Ada was marked out not just by her intelligence, but also by her unshakeable confidence in her own abilities. It’s relatively rare in 2018 to meet a woman who knows that she’s intellectually brilliant and isn’t afraid to say so; in the first half of the 19th century, it was almost unheard of. And Ada’s self-assurance wasn’t unfounded. In a letter written by the mathematician Augustus De Morgan to Ada’s mother, he said that Ada’s talent could see her become “an original mathematical investigator, perhaps of first-rate eminence”.
Lovelace died from uterine cancer in 1852 at the age of just 36, leaving behind her husband, William King-Noel, the Earl of Lovelace, and three children, Byron, Anne and Ralph. It took more than a century for the theory laid out in her 1843 translation to be recognised as the first computer algorithm, but today, her contributions are recognised every October with Ada Lovelace Day.
The day was founded in 2009 to celebrate Lovelace’s achievements and raise the profiles of women working in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers today. Feeling inspired? Read on for some of Lovelace’s most brilliant and unashamedly confident quotes.
Ada Lovelace’s best quotes
“The more I study, the more insatiable do I feel my genius for it to be.”
“I must tell you what my opinion of my own mind and powers is exactly … I believe myself to possess a most singular combination of qualities exactly fitted to make me preeminently a discoverer of the hidden realities of nature.”
“The intellectual, the moral, the religious seem to me all naturally bound up and interlinked together in one great and harmonious whole.”
“I am more than ever now the bride of science. Religion to me is science, and science is religion.”
“I can throw rays from every quarter of the universe into one vast focus… My course is so clear and obvious that it is delightful to think how straight it is.”
“There is too much tendency to making separate and independent bundles of both the physical and the moral facts of the universe. Whereas, all and everything is naturally related and interconnected.”
“I am much pleased to find how well I stand work, & how my powers of attention & continued effort increase. I am never so happy as when I am really engaged in good earnest; & it makes me most wonderfully cheery & merry at other times which is curious & very satisfactory.”
Throughout 2018, Stylist is raising the profiles of brilliant women past and present – and empowering future generations to follow their lead – with our Visible Women campaign. See more from Visible Women here.
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