The first computer programmer, Countess Ada Lovelace, was one of history’s more interesting mathematician-philosophers. She was unusual in not only being allowed but positively encouraged to study mathematics – in an era when many people believed that too much education damaged women’s uteruses (no really). What made Ada Lovelace’s education so wildly different?
Kate Beaton, the popular cartoonist, drew a hilarious comic called “Young Ada Lovelace” (below). The short version is that Ada’s father was Lord Byron, a famous poet who was also famously violent and dissolute. Ada’s mother, Anne Isabella Milbanke, worried that Ada would inherit her father’s personality and die young and miserable. She theorized that mathematics would counter poetry and unbridled emotions, and taught young Ada advanced mathematics to prevent her from following her father’s example.
You can get a print of this comic signed by Kate Beaton by donating to the Ada Initiative to support women in open source software, Wikipedia, and similar ares. The next 5 donors at the Ada’s Angel level before the close of our fundraising drive on October 31, 2012 will receive a print, in addition to an Ada Initiative t-shirt and/or Ada Lovelace pendant.
Whether or not Ada’s mathematics education prevented any poetical tendencies, it allowed her to write the world’s first computer program, over 100 years before any general purpose computer was actually built. Perhaps if all women had the opportunity and encouragement to study mathematics, the Computer Age would have started 100 years earlier.