Ada Lovelace

Mathematician and Computer Pioneer

Image by Wikipedia (Public Domain)

  • BORN Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace10th December 1815, 13 Piccadilly Terrace, London
  • DIED 27th November 1852, 6 Great Cumberland Place, London
  • WORKED Mainly London, and her rich husband’s estate at East Horsley
  • HONOURS None. Personally, I don’t think she deserved any. She had no direct influence on the development of computers, although her status as a female icon is important.BSHS Logo

Entry by Patricia Fara

a blue drawing of a brain inside a computer

Click on the picture to play this podcast which was made to celebrate Lovelace’s 205th birthday during Advent 2020, supported by the British Society for the History of Science.  A fascinating discussion of her place in history by Dr Patricia Fara, Science historian and Emeritus Fellow of Clare College Cambridge in contrast to the work of  Laura Trevail – a contextual artist and technologist working in Essex today. For more Minerva Scientifica podcasts click here.

Artistic Connections

Her father was Lord Byron, and her daughter also became a poet. She was always very elegantly and flamboyantly dressed, and I imagine that, like other girls of the time, she was taught to play a musical instrument, to sing and to dance.


Title: Something More Than Mortal
Words by: Ada Lovelace
Written in: 2016
For: Solo Soprano
Performed by: Frances M Lynch (soprano),
First Performed: The Book Club, Shoreditch, London, August 1st 2016

Something More than Mortal sets extracts of the letters of Ada Lovelace. It was written for Frances M Lynch  for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016 as part of an award-winning show, “Superwomen of Science”

Words: Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage, Elizabeth Tollet, Lord Byron, Computers from Bletchley Park, Dame Stephanie Shirley and the composer
For: 5 solo voices
Performed by: Frances M Lynch & Peyee Chen (sopranos), Jenny Miller (Mezzo), David Sheppard (counter-tenor), Julian Stocker (tenor)
First Performed: by electric voice theatre, Science Museum, London, 28th October 2015
Recorded: individually by the singers during the Covid19 Pandemic and compiled and produced at Birnam Studios London on Dec 8th 2020, supported by the British Society for the History of Science

The piece is based on the rhythms and sounds of different computing machines through the ages and is in 6 sections:

  1. Difference Engine
  2. Jacquard Loom
  3. Vertical Stack
  4. Colossus
  5. The Desk Top
  6. The Lap Top and the Death of ADA

Babbage’s Difference Engine (Photo by Sebastian Wallroth, Wikipedia Norway)


Her domineering mother arranged for her to be Intensively taught at home by private mathematics tutors, because she wanted to prevent her from turning into a dissolute poet like her father. She was apparently fascinated by machines from an early age, but she only became passionate about maths after meeting Charles Babbage when she was 17. He was then working on his Difference Engine, an early calculating machine for generating mathematical tables quickly and accurately.


Ada Lovelace’s Former home at 12 St James’ Square (Image by Basher Eyre on

Wife and mother
She worked at home

Member of major intellectual London circle
including Mary Somerville, Babbage, Michael Faraday, David Brewster

Her wealth and aristocratic background were important – she lived with her wealthy husband, Hon. William King, at 12 St James’ Square, London, SW1Y 4RB after they married in 1835. A plaque was erected here in 1992 by English Heritage.

Scientific Achievements

  • Explaining the principles of Babbage’s engines clearly
  • Suggesting the possibility of programming
  • Said to have written the first computer program (although it was never executed)

Her most important contribution was translating a paper by General L F Menabrea (future Prime Minister of Italy) about Babbage’s Analytical engine. She added extensive notes outlining the possibility of writing a computer program, so that a machine could direct its own calculations independently of human intervention. She also discussed the limitations of machines.

Babbage never completed a working Analytical Engine, and her significance lies in her prophecies about the principles of computing and artificial intelligence. She was an extremely interesting and intelligent woman, well known in London scientific circles, but she has been artificially elevated to the status of a scientific heroine. She exemplifies a woman of huge potential rather than achievement. She died very young, in excruciating pain.

Diagram of an algorithm for the Analytical Engine for the computation of Bernoulli numbers, from Sketch of The Analytical Engine Invented by Charles Babbage by Luigi Menabrea with notes by Ada Lovelace (1842) (Image by Wikimedia Commons)

Did You Know?

She was an inveterate gambler on horse races: she won but also lost large sums of money

An Inspiring Woman

Her major influence has been on posterity, although she was also important at the time for communicating Babbage’s ideas. As a talented mathematician, Lovelace represents what women might have achieved in the past if they had been given more opportunities. Her success in the face of adversity inspires modern women to enter the field of computer science, which is currently dominated by men.