World’s First Programmer, a Woman, Is Born

World’s First Programmer, a Woman, Is Born

“On this day in 1815, Ada Lovelace, who was to become the world’s first computer programmer, was born in London.

Born Ada Augusta Byron, Lovelace was the only child of the poet Lord Byron and his wife, Anne Isabella “”Annabella”” Milbanke. Her parents separated when Lovelace was only one month old, however, and she never knew her father, a notorious man known for living in excess. Lovelace was ill for much of her childhood, but her mother ensured she was given a good education, primarily in mathematics and science to counter any “”dangerous poetic tendencies”” the young girl may have received from her father. By her teens, she showed remarkable mathematical abilities, which her tutors, including noted mathematician Augustus De Morgan, encouraged her to pursue.

Charming and outgoing, Lovelace met many people at Court events, including Scottish science writer, Mary Somerville, who introduced her to Charles Babbage. An English mathematician and mechanical engineer, Babbage was impressed by Lovelace’s intelligence and they began a lively correspondence. Babbage had designed, but not yet built, an analytical engine, a mechanical general-purpose computer, about which Italian engineer (and future prime minister of Italy) Luigi Menabrea had written in French. Babbage asked Lovelace to translate Menabrea’s memoir and append her own notes on his proposed machine. During a nine-month period from 1842-43, Lovelace translated the memoir and wrote her own notes on the analytical machine, which were longer than the memoir itself. In Note G, Lovelace wrote an algorithm to calculate Bernoulli numbers on Babbage’s analytical engine. It is widely considered the first algorithm ever written for computer applications and it’s developer, Lovelace, the first computer programmer.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of funds, Babbage’s analytical engine was never actually built, and he rarely acknowledged others’ contributions in his work, but Lovelace’s algorithm would have worked had it been applied.

Lovelace died of uterine cancer and bloodletting on 27 Novemeber 1852, at the age of 36. She left behind a husband and three children. She was buried next to her father, Lord Byron, at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Nottingham. But the young programmer’s contribution was not forgotten: when the US Department of Defense created a new computer language, they named it Ada, after Lovelace. The British Computer Society has also awarded a medal in her name since 1998 and in 2008 initiated an annual competition for women studying computer science.”

Credit: © Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy
Caption: A portrait of Ada Lovelace, considered to be the first computer programmer.