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The only legitimate child of Lord Byron by Anne Isabella "Annabella" Milbanke, Baroness Byron, was destined to lay the groundwork for the modern computer.  Born Ada Augusta Byron in 1815, she became one of the best known female mathematicians of the Nineteenth Century. Her mother had her trained in mathematics, which she considered good for the development of the mind. Because Ada became the Countess of Lovelace by marriage (her husband, William King, was made Count of Lovelace in 1838), she became known as Ada Lovelace. Often in ill health, she was passionately interested in the scientific developments of the day, especially Charles Babbage's Difference Engine and his Analytical Engine, an early mechanical computer (which was never actually built.)  At the age of 17 she corresponded with Babbage (Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge), who called her "The Enchantress of Numbers."  Later she actually met him.

She was obviously a very impressive personality and her work on the mechanical computer of Babbage earned her the reputation of being the first computer programmer. She published a paper explaining Babbage's Analytical Engine and included a method for calculating a sequence of Bernoulli numbers. She was one of the few scientists of her day who understood the principles of machine calculation. However, her interest did not stop there and she investigated phrenology and mesmerism, among other then current "scientific" fads.

Unfortunately she died at a very young age of uterine cancer and was thus unable to continue her work. Under the influence of her mother, she became very religious toward the end, even recanting her associations with scientists. It was only with the republishing of her paper on Babbage's machine in 1953.

There has been some controversy over Ada Lovelace's actual contributions to computing, but it has been shown that she had made a conceptual jump and her programs for the Babbage machine would actually have worked, if the device had ever been built. However some authorities believe that Babbage actually wrote the programs and published under Ada's name. Letters between the two, imply that they collaborated on the programs, so we may never know Ada's full contribution. A computer language was named  "ADA" after her by the United States Department of Defense.

Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace, founder of computing

Ada Lovelace

Lovelace biography

Originally posted to Desert Scientist on Mon Jan 28, 2013 at 04:31 PM PST.

Also republished by SciTech, History for Kossacks, and Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism.

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