Biography of Ada Lovelace

Mathematics and Computer Pioneer

Ada Lovelace Portrait
Ada Lovelace Portrait. Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images

Ada Augusta Byron was the only legitimate child of the Romantic poet, George Gordon, Lord Byron. Her mother was Anne Isabella Milbanke who took the baby at one month old away from her father's home. Ada Augusta Byron never saw her father again; he died when she was eight.

Ada Lovelace's mother, who had studied mathematics herself, decided that her daughter would be spared the father's eccentricities by studying more logical subjects like math and science, rather than literature or poetry. Young Ada Lovelace showed a genius for math from an early age. Her tutors included William Frend, William King and Mary Somerville. She also learned music, drawing and languages, and became fluent in French.

Ada Lovelace met Charles Babbage in 1833, and became interested in a model he had constructed of a mechanical device to compute values of quadratic functions, the Difference Engine. She also studied his ideas on another machine, the Analytical Engine, which would use punched cards to "read" instructions and data for solving mathematical problems.

Babbage also became Lovelace's mentor, and helped Ada Lovelace begin mathematical studies with Augustus de Moyan in 1840 at the University of London.

Babbage himself never wrote about his own inventions, but in 1842, an Italian engineer Manabrea (later Italy's prime minister) described Babbage's Analytical Engine in an article published in French.

Augusta Lovelace was asked to translate this article into English for a British scientific journal. She added many notes of her own to the translation, since she was familiar with Babbage's work. Her additions showed how Babbage's Analytical Engine would work, and gave a set of instructions for using the Engine for calculating Bernoulli numbers. She published the translation and notes under the initials "A.A.L," concealing her identity as did many women who published before women were more accepted as intellectual equals.

Augusta Ada Byron married a William King (though not the same William King who had been her tutor) in 1835. In 1838 her husband became the first Earl of Lovelace, and Ada became countess of Lovelace. They had three children.

Ada Lovelace unknowingly developed an addiction to prescribed drugs including laudanum, opium and morphine, and displayed classic mood swings and withdrawal symptoms. She took up gambling and lost most of her fortune. She was suspected of an affair with a gambling comrade.

In 1852, Ada Lovelace died of uterine cancer. She was buried next to her famous father.

More than a hundred years after her death, in 1953, Ada Lovelace's notes on Babbage's Analytical Engine were republished after having been forgotten. The engine was now recognized as a model for a computer, and Ada Lovelace's notes as a description of a computer and software.

In 1980, the U.S. Department of Defense settled on the name "Ada" for a new standardized computer language, named in honor of Ada Lovelace.

Fast Facts 

Known for: creating the concept of an operating system or software
Dates: December 10, 1815 - November 27, 1852
Occupation: mathematician, computer pioneer
Education: University of London
Also known as: Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace; Ada King Lovelace

Books About Ada Lovelace

Moore, Doris Langley-Levy. Countess of Lovelace: Byron's Legitimate Daughter.

Toole, Betty A. and Ada King Lovelace. Ada, the Enchantress of Numbers: Prophet of the Computer Age. 1998.

Woolley, Benjamin. The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason and Byron's Daughter. 2000.

Wade, Mary Dodson. Ada Byron Lovelace: the Lady and the Computer. 1994. Grades 7-9.