Oct 7, 2011

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Ada Lovelace
Ada Lovelace: image from Wikimedia Commons

Ada Lovelace was an early nineteenth-century researcher who created the first algorithm meant to be processed by a machine; for this reason, she’s often referred to as the world’s first computer programmer. Ada Lovelace Day is an annual celebration of women in science and technology. Nearly two centuries after Ada Lovelace, these are still male-dominated fields - and the increasing popularity of essentialist explanations for this disparity doesn’t leave me very optimistic regarding the likelihood of changes in the near future. Although I’m a humanities person myself, this is a topic I care about a lot, for reasons that the simple fact that we need an Ada Lovelace Day makes obvious.

I confess that I forgot about this year’s celebrations until Jason (who wrote a beautiful post about Williamina Fleming) reminded me this morning, and as such I didn’t put together a post in advance or read a suitable book. But I really didn’t want to ignore the date, so thought I’d use Ada Lovelace Day as an opportunity to point you to past posts on the topic of women in science, both on my blog and elsewhere:
XKCD Marie Curie

Happy Ada Lovelace Day, everyone!


  1. I can't believe I forgot about it this year! I love that you've made a list and I'm going to have a look. I used to read a lot more about women in science (since I also have a lot of friends who are working scientists) so this is a timely reminder:)

  2. Excellent list, Ana! I'll have to check some of those books out.

  3. Happy to say that my oldest has decided on Biological Anthropology and senior will also be a bio major...;) Girl power!!! Love the comic <3

  4. I ve not read lovelace where would be a great place to start ? then if I see one I ll know which to choose ,thanks stu

  5. Thank you for the educational post - I am ashamed to say that I had no idea who Ada Lovelace was, and didn't think to look her up when I saw her name popping up here and there on Twitter. Bookmarking this to come back and check out links!

  6. Mr. winstonsdad - Sorry to butt in, but if you actually want to read Ms Lovelace's work, her notes on the Analytical Engine, where she developed the idea of a programming language, including the algorithmic design she made, are online at http://www.fourmilab.ch/babbage/sketch.html

    As with any scientific paper, it can be pretty heavy reading. Otherwise, if you wanted to read about Ms Lovelace, I'm told that "Ada, Enchantress of Numbers" is good, and includes in large part a selection of her letters, but I haven't had the chance to read it yet.

    Ms Nymeth - Hurrah! I'm glad you got something up :), and a good something too. Happy Ada Day!

  7. Hurrah for women scientists! It's the first year I participate (with a book review). My short-list of possible books to read included a lot of your recommendations from last year. Thanks!

  8. That has to be one of the best xkcds ever. It makes me cry, in a happy way.

    I forgot about Ada Lovelace day, too! Maybe I will come up with something tonight to post.

  9. Haha, I love that strip! I remember your awesome list but have yet to read any of the books.

    I completely adore the humanities so my women in science support is more theoretical but still yay :)

  10. Thanks for the link! And what a great post. I'm not a scientist by any stretch, but I do love Ada.

  11. And let's hear it for Rosalind Franklin, as well, who discovered DNA along with Crick and Watson but is hardly ever remembered: as her wiki entry says:

    "Franklin is best known for her work on the X-ray diffraction images of DNA which led to discovery of DNA double helix. Her data, according to Francis Crick, were "the data we actually used" to formulate Crick and Watson's 1953 hypothesis regarding the structure of DNA. Franklin's X-ray diffraction image confirming the helical structure of DNA were shown to Watson without her approval or knowledge... Franklin's scientific contributions to the discovery of the double helix are often overlooked." Mainly because Crick and Watson just didn't bother to credit her.

  12. This post gave me so many great reading ideas, thank you!

  13. Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

    One of the texts on the National test my students took in the spring was about Ada Lovelace. That made me happy (I was also happy that one of the people they were supposed to talk about for the oral portion was about Rachel Carson)

    Great list! I'll have to check some of them out further.

  14. Happy Ada Lovelace Day! I loved that strip featuring Zombie Curie :) I haven't heard of Emmy Noether before. She looks like a fascinating person - I loved Absract Algebra when I studied it in uni and and I can't wait to find out about her achievements in that field.

  15. Yay, I love this post.

    I will also throw out the OTW, the non-profit I volunteer for that you often hear me talk so much about. We're pre-dominantly female. I am pretty sure most of our coders are women and on all the committees I serve on, I serve with super awesome ladies. Example: http://transformativeworks.org/ada-lovelace-day-2011-celebrating-our-tech-heroines

    You're all "Renay, what does this have to do with stories?" but OTW was founded by fans, who create lots of stories all the time (fanfic, fanvids, fanart, etc.). If anyone is looking for a majority-female non-profit to support to encourage the development of women in technology, OTW is a great option. :)

  16. Yay! I've never heard of this day (being a humanities person myself), but I definitely agree it's important. Awesome post!

  17. I had no idea it was Ada Lovelace Day, or what that even meant, so thanks for enlightening me!

  18. Happy Ada Lovelace Day to you too! Thanks for the reading suggestions!

  19. This was news to me and thank you specially for the links.

  20. Sakura: I'm glad to have reminded you! These books are likely to be awesome at any time of the year, after all.

    Chris, glad you liked it!

    Kelly: Excellent :D

    Stu: I'm afraid I lack the background to understand Lovelace's work, so I won't even try to read her. I'll point you towards Jason's response!

    Kirsten: Nothing to be ashamed of - next year you'll know!

    Jason: I'm very thankful you replied, because as I was saying I completely lack the background to be able to read Ms Lovelace myself. Thank you again for the reminder!

    Alex: I loved your review! And you're most welcome.

    Lu: Me too. So brilliant.

    Bina: Same with me!

    Clare: Me too :)

    Katherine Langrish: Yes! I really do recommend Maddox's biography. Insightful and compassionate, and it leaves readers furious on her behalf.

    Emily Jane: You're most welcome!

    Zee: That is indeed awesome! (I still need to read Silent Spring, eep.)

    Vishy: I hope you tell us what you find out! I know very little about abstract algebra myself, but she still sounds like someone whose biography I'd happily read.

    Renay: I was not thinking that! I was thinking that's indeed a perfect example of women doing awesome things in technology :D

    Heidenkind: Maybe next year we can all celebrate!

    Zibilee: You're most welcome! I love that I'm also constantly learning things from book bloggers.

    Trisha and Mystica: You're both most welcome!

  21. Wait, that can't be your favorite xkcd! It has to be this one:

  22. I have added Ada Lovelace Day to my calendar of important yearly dates. Once I started a list of novels about science. So far I only have 13 titles of which only 5 are by women and 3 of those are by the same woman. (There is something odd about that sentence, sorry.) Dava Sobel wrote Galileo's Daughter, The Planets, and Longitude. I haven't read any of them yet though my husband read Galileo's Daughter and liked it. I HAVE read Henrietta Lacks and it is great. (Not a novel, but written like a novel.)

    Does anyone have suggestions for my novels about science list?

  23. Wonderful post. It is crucial to be reminded of those who came before who paved the way. I will check out this list out and as Judy wrote above, Ada Lovelace Day will be placed on my calendar as well. I also recommend the Henrietta Lacks story as well - powerfully written.

  24. oh, how did I miss this one. sigh... I seem to miss all the important days in October. Wishing you a belated Happy Ada Lovelace Day! :)


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.