Who is Ada Lovelace? - Biography, Facts & Quotes

Instructor: Betsy Chesnutt

Betsy teaches college physics, biology, and engineering and has a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

Over a hundred years before computers began to be produced and used throughout the world, a visionary woman named Ada Lovelace saw their potential and even wrote and published the first computer program ever written. In this lesson, learn more about her amazing life!

Who Was Ada Lovelace?

Today, we rely on computers every day, but not too long ago, life was very different. Computers did not begin to really have a significant effect on our lives until the middle of the twentieth century, but the world's first computer program was actually written much earlier. The first computer programmer lived in the early 1800s and wasn't a trained scientist at all. Surprisingly, she was an English noblewoman named Ada Lovelace.

At the time, the computer she wrote the program for didn't even exist, but she was still able to see what might be possible. For many years, her contributions were forgotten, but her work was rediscovered in the 1950's, and today she is recognized as the world's first computer programmer.

She was always thinking and working on new scientific problems, and she believed that she was uniquely gifted, once saying, ''I believe myself to possess a most singular combination of qualities exactly fitted to make me pre-eminently a discoverer of the hidden realities of nature.''

A portrait of Ada Lovelace painted around 1840
Portrait of Ada Lovelace in 1840

Early Life

Ada Lovelace's life was unusual even before she was born. In 1815, the famous Romantic poet Lord Byron met a woman named Anne Isabella Milbanke, and they decided to get married. Near the end of that year, Anne gave birth to a baby girl named Ada. The relationship would be very short lived. Lord Byron and Anne separated when Ada was only a few weeks old. He left Anne and Ada in England and eventually moved to the Mediterranean coast, where he would die a few years later from a fever. Ada would grow up with her mother and never see her famous father again.

Ada's mother was highly educated herself, and she was determined that her daughter would be also. She hired numerous accomplished tutors and teachers for young Ada and made a special effort to have her taught mathematics, which was a subject not usually taught to girls during the 1800's! Partly, this was because she did not want her daughter to inherit the imaginative and moody temperament of her former husband, Lord Byron. She vowed that Ada would grow up to be more logical and rational than her father, and she thought learning mathematics would help achieve this goal.

Whatever her mother's reasons for teaching her the subject, it quickly became apparent that young Ada Byron had a special talent for mathematics, and by the time she was a teenager, she was corresponding regularly with some of the most famous scientists and mathematicians in the country.

Marriage and Family

In 1835, Ada Byron married William King. A few years later, he inherited a title, and he and Ada became the Earl and Countess of Lovelace. She would be known as Ada Lovelace for the rest of her life. She and William had three children: Byron, Anne Isabella, and Ralph Gordon.

Friendship with Charles Babbage

When she was seventeen, Lovelace met a promising scientist named Charles Babbage through a mutual friend. They quickly became friends and began corresponding with each other. The partnership between Babbage and Lovelace would turn out to be incredibly important to them both.

In 1834, Babbage began planning the design of a new kind of calculating device that he called the analytical engine.

Lovelace helped Babbage popularize his ideas by translating an article written about it from French into English, adding some of her own ideas to the paper in the process, including an algorithm that is recognized today as the world's very first computer program!

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