Lord Byron is one of those titles that strikes a bell; regardless of whether you’re a fan of literature or not, he remains a symbol of all that is egotistical and passionate.
Let’s go back to 1814. Following a chain of affairs, including an incestuous connection with his half-sister, Lord Byron married Anne Isabella Noel, making her the notable Lady Byron. They separated within the first few years of their marriage and Lord Byron himself died a dramatic death abroad in the Greek war. In the midst of all of this, the product of this strange marriage was Ada.
Ada Lovelace was subject to her mother’s persuasions against the arts. Anything that could trigger some sort of revival of her father’s deviant ways was ardently encouraged against. Instead of the humanities like most women, mathematics paved the way of Ada’s education. And it was this formative introduction to the world of math that allowed her to find a place in the world of computing. Now, to clarify, by computers, the modern day standard is a far cry from its Victorian predecessor, a calculating machine is what we’re referring to here – not just a calculator though, an engine that is driven by an algorithm.
This engine had been developed Luigi Menabrea; an Italian military engineer, but it was Ada who translated the Italian and wrote her own set of interpretive notes; drawing on the socio-economic impact of computerisation as well as the potential of such a machine. Ada’s conceptualisation and annotations of Menabrea’s text went beyond mere calculating, her vision was one of progress and development, laying the foundations for industrial computing.
Let’s go back to the title for a second – The Enchantress of Number may seem quite a title for an Italian translator. But Ada was so much more, she earned this title from no other than Charles Babbage, of whom is often dubbed the father of the modern computer. Ada was a talented mathematician and her notes are more than notes; they provided the conceptual tools for modern day computing. An artistic mind bolstered with mathematic talent translated these figures into an idea for the future; that these numbers could become symbols, they could express any ‘abstract science’ to ‘any degree of complexity or extent’.
Although she may not have been a computer programmer to the most literal degree of the term, she was an accomplished mathematician in her own right, and one of the tiny minority of women to integrate themselves so fundamentally within the history of computing. Her dedication is exactly what makes her so important; we need women in science, we need women to feel as though computing is where they can feel at home; knowing that women played an integral role is so important.
I would like to note however, that doubly important, is the role of men in caring positions, just as we place an onus on women feeling comfortable in science, so too should we take a step back and make space for men within the ‘feminine’ spheres of work. It should never take a life-long devotion to earn or excuse a place for either sex.