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The Birth of Computer Programming
In a world of men, for men, and made by men, there were a lucky few women who could stand up and be noticed. In the early nineteenth century, Lovelace Augusta Byron King, Countess of Lovelace, made her mark among the world of men that has influenced even today’s world. She was the “Enchantress of Numbers” and the “Mother of Computer Programming.” The world of computers began with the futuristic knowledge of one Charles Babbage and one Lady Lovelace, who appeared to know more about Babbage’s Analytical Engine than he himself knew. At the time of Lovelace’s discoveries, women were only just beginning to take part in the scientific world, and her love of mathematics drove her straight into the world of men. Her upbringing, her search for more knowledge, her love of mathematics, and her inherited writing abilities brought to life what we know today as computer programming or computer science.
Lovelace Augusta Byron was born to the famous British poet George Gordon Byron (Lord Byron), and Anne Isabella Milbanke on December 10, 1815. Her parents marriage lasted the short time of one year, and one month after Lovelace was born, Lord Byron left. From that point in time until her death, Lovelace’s life was governed by her domineering mother. As a child, Lovelace’s tutors and governesses were all instructed to teach her the “discipline” of mathematics and music in such a way that Lovelace would never find the love of writing that her father possessed. For fear that Lovelace would develop the same mood swings and torments that her father had, Lovelace was not allowed to really read her father’s poetry. There were claims that Annabella, as her mother was called, kept Lord Byron’s poetry in a case that Lovelace could access at anytime. She was even encouraged to read the poetry later on in life, but the “discipline,” as Annabella called it, of mathematics had been instilled into Lovelace and her spark for poetry was smothered. It was by smothering Lovelace’s tendencies towards poetry that she ended up studying the women’s forbidden subjects of mathematics and science. “Undoubtedly, Lovelace was better off not attending a school where she would have been obliged to follow the typical curriculum for young ladies of her class. Living a sheltered life among her mother’s circle of friends, Lovelace was better educated through governesses, tutors, and, later, independent study” (Nilson 64).
It was May 10, 1833 when Lovelace began venturing out into the world of adults. At this time, she attended parties and balls. She had a desire to meet other people who shared her love of mathematics, music, riding, and anything else that was new and interesting. Most of all, Lovelace wanted to meet Mary Somerville, the famous female mathematician who had just published The Mechanism of the Heavens, a book on mathematical astronomy. Mrs. Somerville was Lovelace’s hero, and later, she became a good friend and tutor. It was at a party that Lovelace met Charles Babbage, the famous inventor of the speedometer, skeleton key, the locomotive “cow catcher,” and the ophthalmoscope (used to examine the retina of the eye). In Babbage, Lovelace found “a constant intellectual companion in whom she found a match for her powerful understanding” (Perl 131). The friendship between Lovelace and Babbage would last for all her life, but the bond that Lovelace developed between Babbage’s work and her would last until present day. Being a woman, Lovelace was not allowed to explore her ideas with just anyone, but with Babbage, she went the full distance. She called herself his “fairy,” performing deeds for the good of his new invention, the Analytical Engine, and he referred to her as his “interpretress.” The evidence of these pet names is given only from the letters that they sent back and forth on a nearly daily basis. It is hard to imagine that the majority of Lovelace’s work was performed through letters, and personal contact fell to a minimum. The restrictions of the time for women required her to have an escort before she was married, and that left her mathematical knowledge to be gathered in the only discrete way possible: written communication.
While growing up, Lovelace had countless tutors and governesses, with whom she maintained contact most of her life. One of her tutors, Dr. William King, who was not at all fond of mathematics, was instructed to “operate” on Lovelace’s thirteen-year-old brain. After his services were no longer needed, Lovelace continued contact with Dr. King by way of letters, which proposed mathematical problems and equations. She searched for more in-depth mathematical knowledge that Dr. King did not possess as may be seen in one of his letters, “You will soon puzzle me in your studies,” he wrote (Baum 28). She read any mathematical books that she could find including Dionysius Lardner’s Euclid and Vince’s Plane and Spherical Trigonometry. Another of her tutor’s had been William Frend, who introduced to her yet another of her tutors, Augustus De Morgan, a famous knowledgeable mathematician and the husband of Frend’s daughter Sophia. Both Frend and De Morgan were Lovelace’s consultants throughout her work with Babbage on his Analytical Engine, a machine that would use punch-cards to calculate higher degrees of polynomials with ease and accuracy. She posed questions to them on mathematics that women otherwise were thought not to be able to understand, many of which they did not. De Morgan is quoted for writing that Lovelace “would have been ‘an original mathematical investigator, perhaps of first-rate eminence’ but not, he suggested, if she had gone to the university (had it admitted women then), where the system would have demanded sacrifice of originality” (Baum 20). Her search for more knowledge in mathematics is what led to her amazing discoveries of how to make the Analytical Machine calculate problems and return accurate answers for everyone to see.
Lady Lovelace’s father, Lord Byron, was a poet who is still celebrated today. He had a skill with words that was passed on t
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