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Feminspire | April 20, 2014

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Ada Lovelace Day & the Fascinating Woman Who Inspired It

Ada Lovelace Day & the Fascinating Woman Who Inspired It

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Now, if that name sounds familiar but you can’t quite place who this incredible woman was or what she did to earn herself her own day every October 16, don’t worry. Let this is your official guide to Ada Lovelace and her fascinating and badass biography.

Ada Lovelace Day is the brainchild of Suw Charman-Anderson, a journalist, software consultant, prominent blogger, and former executive. In 2009, Charman-Anderson recruited a network of bloggers and online journalists to organize the day with the goal of celebrating women working in sciences, engineering, technology, and math. In 2012, Ada Lovelace Day has gained prominence, with talks and demonstrations by women scheduled to take place today throughout the world and a fundraiser to help support the events of Ada Lovelace Day 2012.

The deficiency of women in the STEM fields is widely reported, and the benefits of a day aimed at raising the profiles of women working in these male-dominated fields are obvious–but why name the day after Ada Lovelace?

Born in England in 1815 as Augusta Ada Byron, Ada Lovelace disappointed many when she came into the world because she was not the “glorious boy” that her father, the “mad, bad, and dangerous to know” poet and antihero, Lord Byron, so desperately wanted. To say that Ada Lovelace was born into a complicated family is an understatement:  in addition to having an infamous poet for a father, she was named after her aunt, Augusta Leigh, Byron’s half-sister, with whom he may or may not have had an incestual relationship with. Ada’s mother and Lord Byron separated when Ada was only a month old, followed by a divorce, then Byron signing over parental rights, and finally Byron running off to Greece to fight in the revolution and promptly dying in a spectacular fashion (in the middle of a lightning storm!) befitting his over-the-top persona.

All this led to the young Ada being what we call these days “famous for being famous,” though Ada’s mother made sure her daughter was a diligent student, particularly of mathematics, which Ada’s mother made her study in an attempt to quell any “insanity” lurking in Ada’s mind from Lord Byron. Ada’s mother so feared Byron’s influence over her daughter that Ada was kept from even so much as viewing a portrait of her father until she was twenty years old. This peculiar and overbearing upbringing produced a headstrong and brilliant young woman–one who not only would attempt to elope with one of her tutors, have rumored affairs with numerous men, be left in deep debt after writing an unsuccessful algorithm meant to make herself a better gambler, but also become the world’s first computer programmer.

In 1842, Ada collaborated with Charles Babbage, an engineer, inventor, and mathematician. Ada translated an Italian memoir on one of Babbage’s inventions, the Analytical Engine, with an added series of notes explaining the function of the Analytical Engine. Her notes were too difficult to understand for the science field at the time, though Ada’s algorithm and method are now recognized at the world’s first computer program. The engine was never completed during Ada’s lifetime–she died young, at age thirty-six, same age as her father, from uterine cancer–but her notes were re-published in 1953 after having been forgotten for over a hundred years, and since then, credit has been given to her as the world’s initial computer programmer. In 1980, the U.S. Department of Defense even named a standardized computer language Ada after Lovelace, and Ada has become a symbol of women in STEM, a representation for female success and innovation in the fields, and something of a steampunk star.

And so, in honor of our Lady Lovelace, take today to recognize the women working in science, technology, engineering, and math, peruse the Finding Ada website, and be as headstrong and brilliant as you want to want to be.

Written by Kate Russell
Find her on her blog, Red Maple Hair!