Ada and Mary

Thomas Phillips - Mary Fairfax, Mrs William Somerville, 1780 - 1872. Writer on science - Google Art Project.jpg
“Thomas Phillips – Mary Fairfax, Mrs William Somerville, 1780 – 1872. Writer on science – Google Art Project” by Thomas Phillips – vgGXxVhiio34ew at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

So, we were talking about the connections between Ada Lovelace and great Scot, Mary Somerville.

It is exciting to mention Ada in connection with Lord Byron and it helps to easily situate her in historical context, but he really didn’t play much of a role in her life.  Byron allegedly had some concern that his own waywardness might be inherited, so he left Ada’s mother when Ada was still a baby*.

While it is also exciting to think of Ada Lovelace as a pioneer, she was not actually a crusader, nor a feminist actor on any poitical stage.

If you are looking for a a female scientist and activist to celebrate,   Mary Somerville is your woman.

Mary Somerville  played a key role in defining and categorizing the physical sciences, was one of the best known scientists of the nineteenth century and a passionate reformer. She was the author of best-selling books on science and a highly respected mathematician and astronomer.  She was  a very clever woman and was for several years Ada’s tutor and mentor. A staunch supporter of women’s suffrage and a great advocate of women’s education in 1868 Mary was the first person to sign J.S Mill’s petition to Parliament in support of women’s suffrage **.

If you are interested, the Mary Somerville collection, owned by Somerville College and held at the Bodleian Library, contains a significant number of letters from Lady Lovelace and her daughter to the Somerville family. They also include an invitation from Charles Babbage to Mary Somerville and her husband to view his new ‘Calculating Engine’.  Worth checking out***.


*Well he would say that, wouldn’t he.

**read more from Somervile college history website
*** perhaps someone will map the data and connections to create a visualisation of *that* social network.

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