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Women and Science

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  In what is now called the First Wave of Feminism, the feminist movement in the U. K began a little before Ada’ s death, in 1850, when feminists like Barbara Bodichon and Bessie Parkes began an organised movement with its headquarters at Langham Place in London, eventually going on to publish the ‘ English Woman’ s Journal’ from 1858 onwards. The First Wave of Feminism brought about reform in the girls’ secondary school system, also allowing girls to take national examinations, thus opening venues of higher education and access to professions like science and medicine. 4 Ada Byron could not, unfortunately, benefit from the achievements of the First Wave of Feminism.

She was barred from taking higher education, as women were not considered worthy for such studies during her time. She abandoned her scholarly hopes and, in keeping with social conventions, got married {to the Earl of Lovelace} and eventually gave birth to 3 children. Ada was forced to remain away from her beloved mathematics for a long period of 9 years. The fourth momentous event in Ada’ s life that occurred in 1843 brought about a radical about-turn vis-à -vis her relationship with the study.

Charles Babbage, who meanwhile had continued to work on his Analytical Engine, spoke extensively about it at a seminar in Turin; an Italian engineer named Luigi Menabrea reported a summarised version of Babbage’ s speech in an article in French. By chance, the article was given to Ada Byron for translation in 1843. Ada initially showed the translation manuscript to Charles Babbage, who encouraged her to add her own remarks to it. Ada used her knowledge and imagination to do so, and the resultant final text turned out to be thrice as long as the original one. Charles and Ada began corresponding heavily, trading their ideas that included fact as well as imagination.

This culminated in Ada publishing an article in 1843 where she foretold that a calculating machine such as Babbage’ s Analytical Engine could be employed to create graphics, compose music and put to scientific as well as practical uses.

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