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Archives Biographies: Ada Countess of Lovelace

Ada Lovelace was a mathematician and is best remembered for her work with Charles Babbage, computer pioneer. A number of her letters to Michael Faraday are held in the IET Archives.

Portrait of Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852), by Mary Remington after Margaret Carpenter. Full length, at foot of a staircase. Oil on canvas. The original is 60 x 30 inches in a modern gilt composition frame.

Augusta Ada Byron was the daughter of Baron and Lady Byron (George Gordon Noel Byron and Anne Isabella Noel, née Milbanke) and was born in London in 1815. Following the separation of her parents as a small child, Ada was raised by her mother and educated by tutors with a strong focus on mathematics and the sciences, as her mother hoped to deter her from following in the footsteps of her poetic father.

Ada was fascinated by mechanical toys and scientific pursuits. At 17 she met the polymath Charles Babbage (1791-1871). Babbage showed Ada his first calculating engine, the difference engine, which aimed to automate the production of numerical tables, thereby reducing human error. The engine captured Ada’s imagination and she attended lectures regarding it, examined its plans, studied, and became part of the same social circle as Babbage. In 1835 she married William King, who was created Earl of Lovelace in 1838.

Ada is best known for her notes and comments on Babbage’s plans for an analytical engine, a general-purpose programmable computing engine. In 1843 Ada translated a paper by General L F Menabrea describing Babbage’s new calculating engine and to this she added notes which contain what is regarded as one of the earliest computer programmes. Ada saw the graphical potential of the analytical engine and that by using a punched card system, scientific information could be seen in a new light. She wrote that the ‘Analytical Engine weaves algebraical patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves’.

Ada died from cancer in 1852 at the age of 37. Today Ada Lovelace Day is an annual event whose goal is to ‘... raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering, and maths,’ and to ‘create new role models for girls and women’ in these fields. The Lovelace Room at the IET Savoy Place is named in her honour. The above portrait depicting Ada by Mary Remington, after Margaret Carpenter, is part of the IET’s portrait collection.