5 Ada Lovelace Facts That Make Will Make You Love Her Even More

Cristen Conger

A portrait of Ada Lovelace.
A portrait of Ada Lovelace.
Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

On December 10, 1815, Ada Lovelace was born in London. Now just shy of her 200th birthday, Lovelace is hailed at history's first computer programmer and a beloved icon for women in STEM. So how did this Victorian-era genius come to be?

A mathematical whiz from an early age, Lovelace met mathematician Charles Babbage at 17, and the pair forged an academic relationship that would change technology forever. Babbage and Lovelace bonded over a shared interest in Babbage's proto calculator, the Difference Engine. In 1842, Lovelace unknowingly etched her name in computer science history when she agreed to translate an Italian paper on Babbage's machine. (Side note: not only was she was a multilingual math genius, she also excelled at violin. Yowzah!)

Her translation, which was published the following year in 1843, was about three times the length of the original work and contained her original notes that outlined the fundamentals of computer programming.

"A new, a vast, and a powerful language is developed for the future use of analysis, in which to wield its truths so that these may become of more speedy and accurate practical application for the purposes of mankind than the means hitherto in our possession have rendered possible," she wrote in one section.

In celebration then of this incredible woman and tech visionary, here are a few biographical facts beyond her brilliant imaginings of making Babbage's machine talk, so to speak.

1. Ada Lovelace got her math and computing brain from her mama.

Although Ada Lovelace is more commonly known as the daughter of poet George Gordon, aka Lord Byron, computer science history owes far more to her mother, Annabella Milbanke.

Milbanke, whom Lord Byron nicknamed his Princess of Parallelograms before their romance went bust, was a math fiend herself. And after the short-lived marriage broke up, Milbanke made it her mission to stoke Ada's computative capabilities. But it wasn't an unadulterated love of numbers that compelled the mathematical mothering. In an effort to squelch the artistic creativity she loathed in her poet ex-husband, Milbanke raised Lovelace on no-nonsense curricula of science, logic and math.

2. Little Ada believed she could fly.

From The New Yorker:

When Ada Lovelace was twelve years old, she wanted to fly. She approached the problem methodically, examining birds and investigating various materials that could serve as wings-feathers, paper, silk. In the course of her research, which began in February, 1828, according to her biographer Betty Alexandra Toole, Ada wrote and illustrated a guide called "Flyology," to record her findings. She toiled away on this project until her mother reprimanded her for neglecting her studies, which were meant to set her on a rational course, not a fanciful one.

3. Ada Lovelace isn't her actual name.

Born August Ada Byron, she married William King at 19 in 1835, and King was later appointed the Earl of Lovelace. So technically, her correct name is Lady Ada King, Countess of Lovelace. But Ada Lovelace has such a better ring to it, yes?

Though marriage initially derailed her studies, King was supportive of work. By the time she translated Sketch of The Analytical Engine Invented By Charles Babbage and included her prolific -- and prophetic -- notes, Lovelace was a mother of three.

4. Lovelace had an important female mentor.

Mary Somerville was a rare female scientist of the day and one of the first women elected as an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society. Such a significant and well-known member of the European scientific community, Somerville was basically a lady Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Somerville is said to have helped instruct Lovelace when she was a teenager and also accompanied her to Charles Babbage's house a number of times to see his dizzying Difference Machine.

5. Charles Babbage nicknamed her "Lady Fairy" and "Enchantress of Numbers."

In an 1843 letter to Michael Faraday, Babbage wrote:

So you will now have to write another note so that Enchantress who has thrown her magical spell around the most abstract of Sciences and has grasped it with a force which few masculine intellects (in our own country at least) could have exerted over it. I remember well your first interview with the youthfull (sic) fairy which she herself has not forgotten...
The Enchantress of Numbers

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