Ada Lovelace: the first computer programmer

Lady Augusta Ada Lovelace is known for her work on computers with Charles Babbage - she was the first person to recognise the technique of computing and writing programmes - she was effectively the first computer programmer.

Ada Lovelace whose full name was Ada King, Countess of Lovelace, was born Augusta Ada Gordon or Lady Ada Byron.

She was in fact the daughter of the famous poet Lord Byron, but she was a mathematician who became an associate of Charles Babbage who developed the first digital computer, it was actually Lovelace who created its first programme, and as a result she is often referred to as the first computer programmer.

In view of Lovelace's pioneering work and being the first computer programmer, the computer language Ada was named after her.

Ada Lovelace's birth & childhood

Ada Lovelace has been known by a variety of names. She was born on 10 December 1815 at what is now 139 Piccadilly, London.

She was born The Honourable Augusta Ada Byron and she was the only legitimate child of the romantic poet, George Gordon Byron, 6th Barron Byron - all Byron's other children were born outside wedlock. Her mother was Anne Isabelle Milbanke, 11th Baroness Wentworth and was known as Annabelle - a contraction of Anne Isabelle.

The marriage of Byron and Annabelle was said to be very tempestuous. Byron had many affairs and also was very erratic, flying into rages at the slightest provocation. He often carried a couple of pistols with him as well as a dagger and on occasions he threatened to use them on others or himself.

A month after Ada's birth Byron announced he was having a relationship with a London chorus girl. Annabelle then decided it was time to leave him. She took her daughter Ada with her to live with her parents in Kirby Mallory, Leicestershire, England.

Byron commemorated his daughter in a poem: "Is thy face like thy mother's my fair child! ADA! sole daughter of my house and heart?

Ada Lovelace never saw her father again - he died when she was just eight years old whilst he was in the Greek War of Independence.

Despite the bad press Annabelle received after the acrimonious split from Lord Byron, it is now believed that she was a loving and caring person - she was a good mother to the young Ada Lovelace.

Like many of upper classes, Ada was educated at home, with her mother ensuring that she received the best education possible. This was provided by a series of nannies and later governesses.

During an illness her mother needed to recover away from home, and during this period, Ada devoted herself increasingly to her studies. Also as her mother feared she would inherit her father's volatile temperament, she steered her away from arts and poetry towards science, mathematics and logic.

This seemed to work as Ada Lovelace loved machines and the technology of the day. She was fascinated by the new inventions of the time and loved mechanics - even looking at how she might invent a steam powered flying machine.

Ada was a sickly child, suffering headaches and other maladies. However when she was 13 she contracted measles and this left her unable to walk for over a year - she finally managed to walk gain, but with the aid of crutches in 1831.

Ada meets many important figures

Nevertheless Ada continued with her studies and met many leading scientists and mathematicians. Augustus de Morgan, a leading light in the field of logic, encouraged her to further study mathematics, although he was concerned too much study might damage her health.

Then in 1833 when she was just 17, Ada met the mathematician Charles Babbage. Even though there was a major age difference - Babbage as 42, this friendship would lead on to many major developments. These included Babbage's Analytical Engine.

Ada marries

On the 8 July 1835 when Ada was just 19, she married William King, the 8th Barron King

As can be gathered from he name, King was an aristocrat, and he was ten years her senior. Over the next four years the couple had three children: Byron; And Isabella and Ralph Gordon.

Then in 1838 King was made Earl of Lovelace and Ada became the Right Honourable the Countess of Lovelace, or as we know her today, Ada Lovelace.

The couple had three homes: Ockham Park, Surrey; a Scottish estate on Loch Torridon in Ross-shire; and a house in London. However from 1845, their main residence became East Horsley Towers. This had been rebuilt in the Victorian Gothic fashion by the architect of the Houses of Parliament, Charles Barry.

Lovelace's first computer programme

Ada Lovelace's friendship flourished with Babbage. She became engaged with his plans for his analytical engine. She studied the plans and became very familiar with it and the way it worked.

Lovelace was very fortunate that her husband supported her work with Babbage, despite what many men of the time might have done and possibly what others thought.

In 1842, Babbage went to Turin to present a lecture to the University there. As a result, one of the attendees published his notes (in French) in the Bibliotheque Universelle de Geneve.

A friend of Babbage, Charles Wheatstone asked Lovelace, who was fluent in French to translate the paper, and even corrected some of the errors there as her knowledge was very deep. She even added many footnotes extending the length oft he paper a few times.

In one of these footnotes, Ada Lovelace details a number of programmes showing how they worked. One example was for the calculation of Bernoulli numbers, and it showed how the Analytical Engine could be used to calculate mathematical series or other useful items. She also provided details of how algebraic formulae could be reduced to a series of basic instructions like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and how these could be coded onto the Engine.

The computer programme in these notes are widely accepted to be the first example of a computer programme detailed anywhere.

Ada Lovelace - last days

Lovelace had always been troubled with sickness. She had suffered from many debilitating diseases - measles, and also cholera had afflicted her, and she was generally physically relatively frail.

She contracted uterine cancer, and at this time there were no remedies for this.

Her mother was by her side every day for much of her suffering. As the disease was very painful, she was given many strong pain killers. This left her in a semi-conscious state for much of the time.

When she was free of medication, she was able to talk lucidly, but the periods like this became less frequent as the disease took hold more.

She was buried beside her father at the Church of St MaryMagdalene in Hucknell, Nottingham.

   



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