Ada Lovelace was one of many women pioneers in computing, but today the computer programming profession is dominated by men. Only 18% of computer science undergraduate degrees in the U.S. in 2010 were awarded to women. In open source software, used heavily by Facebook, Google, Twitter, and many more, the percentage of women was only 2% in 2006. These numbers aren’t surprising when you learn women in computing face sexism, harassment, and even groping and other forms of sexual assault.
Ada Lovelace and the invisibility of women in computing
In the end, most arguments that Lovelace did not write the first program only make sense in the context of a common assumption: in any partnership between a man and woman, the man did the important work and the woman assisted and polished… “How to Suppress Women’s Writing” by Joanna Russ shows the patterns in how people dismiss women’s writing: “She didn’t write it. She wrote it but she shouldn’t have. She wrote it but look what she wrote about. She wrote it but she isn’t really an artist, and it isn’t really art,” ad nauseum. The exact same arguments are used by people trying to dismiss Lovelace’s programming, right down to “She wrote it but she isn’t really a programmer, and it isn’t really a program.”
— Valerie Aurora, Deleting Ada Lovelace from the history of computing, August 2013
Rebooting the Ada Lovelace mythos
Ada Initiative co-founder Valerie Aurora gave a keynote address, Rebooting the Ada Lovelace Mythos at Ada Lovelace: An Interdisciplinary Conference Celebrating her Achievements and Legacy in October 2013.
Today, Countess Ada Lovelace is known primarily as the world’s first computer programmer, having published in 1843 a program written for an early computer designed (but never built) by Charles Babbage. But our view of Lovelace has changed significantly over time, starting with her early fame as the poet Lord Byron’s daughter and extending into deeply personal book-length attacks on her personality and accomplishments.
This talk discusses the changing perception of Ada Lovelace from her birth to 2013, with emphasis on how this reflects the importance of computing and the perceptions of women’s proper roles in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
— Valerie Aurora, Rebooting the Ada Lovelace Mythos: Video, transcript, slides, and summary now available, November 2013
Ada Lovelace portrait
In 2011, the Ada Initiative commissioned a free, modern, cleaned-up, printing-friendly portrait of Ada Lovelace from illustrator Colin Adams.
The portrait is available for re-use in your own projects without restrictions.
- Betty Alexandra Toole’s 2010 biography: Ada, the Enchantress of Numbers: Poetical Science, Critical Connection.
- Sydney Padua’s 2015 alternative history graphical novel: The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer, Pantheon (based on her Lovelace and Babbage web comic).