Ada Lovelace, Women Scientists, Dorothy Day, and Lost Human Potential

Ada Lovelace, 1843 or 1850
Dorothy Day in 1916


Ada Lovelace, Women Scientists, Dorothy Day, and Lost Human Potential

The following summary of the life of Ada Lovelace (December 10, 1815 – November 27, 1852) is taken from the Sacrificium Intellectus website of 23 January 2022 (, which itself drew much of the story from the wikipedia article on Ada Lovelace ( I will comment after that account.

Ada Lovelace was a pioneer of computing science born two centuries ago, in 1815. She took part in writing the first published program and was a computing visionary, recognizing for the first time that computers could do much more than just calculations:

“The Analytical Engine weaves algebraic patterns, just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves.”

Ada Lovelace was the daughter of famed poet Lord Byron, and Annabella Milbanke Byron, who legally separated two months after her birth. Her father then left Britain forever, and Ada never knew him personally. She was educated privately by tutors and then self-educated but was helped in her advanced studies by mathematician-logician Augustus De Morgan, the first professor of mathematics at the University of London.

It may seem odd to call someone born in 1815 a computer scientist, but that is what Ada Lovelace became. Her life changed forever on June 5, 1833, when aged 17 she met Charles Babbage. This was not something many girls Ada’s age could ever do, but as an aristocrat she enjoyed better opportunities than most [and, commendably, took educational advantage of them — MG,Jr.].

Babbage was Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, a position once held by Isaac Newton and held more recently by Stephen Hawking. Babbage learned that both Lady Byron and her daughter were knowledgeable about mathematics and invited them to see a small-scale version of the calculating machine he was working on called the difference engine.

Babbage had become fed up with people making mistakes in lengthy calculations, and his idea was to build an infallible steam-driven or hand-cranked calculating machine: a “computer.”

[During World War II, mathematician Alan Turing in England built an electrical “analytical engine” to crack the German military’s Enigma Code, used by the Nazi Kriegsmarine submarines to coordinate their sinking of transatlantic Allied convoys. Turing’s decoding machine provided advance information on German military moves to Winston Churchill’s administration, which likely shortened the war in Europe by two years; and his theoretical and experimental innovations posthumously launched electronic computer science in the 1960s, after first being persecuted likely to suicide in 1954 by British legal homophobia — MG,Jr.]

Ada was completely captivated by Babbage’s concept, but there was little she could do to help Babbage with his work. However, she sent a message to Babbage requesting copies of the machine’s blueprints, because she was determined to understand how it worked.

An important part of Ada’s education was to see the Jacquard loom in operation. The Jacquard loom was a machine that produced textiles with patterns woven into them. Joseph Marie Jacquard had invented it in 1801. The Jacquard loom was controlled by punch cards, with one card equal to one row of the textile being woven. If the card was punched, the loom thread would be raised. If the card was not punched, the loom thread would be left alone. In other words, the punch cards issued instructions to the machine. They were a simple language, or putting it another way, machine code.

Ada continued her independent pursuit of mathematical knowledge. She became friends with one of the finest female mathematicians of her time, Mary Somerville, who discussed modern mathematics with her, set her higher-level mathematics problems, and talked in detail about Charles Babbage’s difference engine.

In 1841 Ada began working on mathematics again, and was given advanced work by Professor Augustus De Morgan of University College London. She also continued to learn advanced mathematics through correspondence with Mary Somerville.

All the time, she kept Babbage’s difference engine in mind:

“I believe myself to possess a most singular combination of qualities exactly fitted to make me pre-eminently a discoverer of the hidden realities of nature.”

Ada Lovelace broke new ground in computing, identifying an entirely new concept. She realized that an analytical engine could go beyond numbers. This was the first ever perception of a modern computer – not just a calculator – but a machine that could contribute to other areas of human endeavor, for example composing music.

Ada had grasped that anything that could be converted into numbers, such as music, or the alphabet (language) or images, could then be manipulated by computer algorithms. An analytical engine had the potential to revolutionize the way the whole world worked, not just the world of mathematics. She wrote:

“Supposing, for instance, that the fundamental relations of pitched sounds in the science of harmony and of musical composition were susceptible of such expression and adaptations, the engine might compose… pieces of music of any degree of complexity or extent.”

Ada Lovelace died, probably of uterine cancer, at the age of 36 on November 27, 1852. Her health had deteriorated after she completed her work on the analytical engine, and she had suffered a variety of illnesses. She was in pain for several years, and was given opiates by her physicians to help her cope with it. She also drank considerable amounts of alcohol, affecting her moods.

MG,Jr.: The greatest emotional pains I ever experienced were drowned in considerable amounts of alcohol — which my internal organs still remember — and which somewhat works at times as a pain relief technique. The greatest physical pain I ever experienced was most wonderfully dispelled by a 4ml IV drip of morphine, which was administered by one of Earth’s true angels: an emergency room and surgical nurse. Versed is good, Fentanyl is great, but Morphine is perfection — all when administered by medical professionals doing their best for you at painful moments of crisis in your life. Nothing beats pain-free undoped conscious awareness: the radiant doorway to perception.

Reflecting of the life of Ada Lovelace, I came to the following:

Ada Lovelace had a fascinating and prescient mind, and was a woman well ahead of her time; a mathematician, a computer scientist, and an innovator — like Hedy Lamarr!

Ada’s story also reminds me that CO2 induced global warming was first realized — and proved by direct experimentation — by Eunice Foote (being her independent idea), and published by her in 1856 despite the indifference to her by the patriarchal science society of her times, her paper to the AAAS conference of 1856 had to be presented by a man (at least Joseph Henry did it).

There is no sex to the inquiring scientific mind, only curiosity and a logical perseverance in its pursuit.

This also reminds me of Rosalind Franklin, who actually made the X-ray diffraction measurements of the DNA molecule before the theoretical understanding of its structure was known, and who shared her photographs of the diffraction patterns with Watson and Crick, from which they deciphered the double helix molecular structure, wrote their paper on it without giving any credit to nor mention of Franklin (and in his book, which I read in High School, Watson, an irredeemable sexist, was quite gleeful in describing this subterfuge), and cruised their way with timeworn academic sleazemanship to Noble Prizes.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962 was awarded to James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins (Franklin’s boss) for “their” discovery of the molecular structure of DNA, while Franklin, who actually mapped out the structure of the molecule by her direct experimentation, never was recognized (until much later, but still no secular canonization prize).

Another such story is that of Tatiana Proskouriakoff, an American-born Russian woman working since the 1930s as an illustrator at Central American archeological digs at Maya ruins. Tatiana Proskouriakoff was the first person to recognize the meaning of the ancient Maya glyphs carved on stone stelae, as sequences of historical accounts of kingships. She arrived at her insight by the early 1950s, based on her readings of Russian technical literature on the construction of languages. She pursued her groundbreaking work despite the sexist ridicule heaped upon her by her paycheck boss, the lionized (at the time) British egomaniac archeologist of Maya ruins (J. Eric Thompson), who got the entirety of ancient Maya culture, religion, history and worldview completely and stupidly wrong, and in the process, as he was the world’s leading academic authority on Maya archeology, set back those Maya (Central American) studies by at least 30 years.

We have lost so much time for human progress (and maybe now fatally so), by depreciating and wasting so much now anonymous talent, through racism and patriarchal sexism, and homophobia, and ethnic and religious tribalism.

Why will Dorothy Day, a 20th century equivalent to Saint Francis of Assisi, never be canonized a Saint by the Catholic Church?

Bureaucracies are always motivated by self-preservation as a hierarchical entity, to maintain the positions and status (and fortunes) of its tiered elites and retainers. They are not motivated by principles, ideals or morals, but those are useful as propaganda to corral, hypnotize and use on the masses.

Idealistic and messianic champions of those principles, ideals and morals — like Jesus, Joan of Arc, and many others — who can divert the masses’s allegiances from the established power pyramids — the Churches and Kingdoms supposedly promoting those principles, ideals and morals — are not to be tolerated by those power pyramids because their prime focus is their own preeminence, not popular liberation.

Such “dangerous” principled and independent champions must either be trivialized and harmlessly absorbed into subservient roles in the power structure, like St. Francis of Assisi (today’s Pope “Francis” is a Jesuit who took the name of the first Franciscan), or burned at the stake as heretics. Canonization is reserved for the former, not the later.

In our modern America, one leading champion of principles, ideals and morals — sociologist and religious minister Martin Luther King, Jr. — was first “burnt at the stake” of mass media managed public opinion from 1966 on, for speaking out against structural American economic apartheid, and after heeding Thich Nhat Hanh’s recommendation to speak out against the Vietnam War, and then literally killed by a volunteer lumpen White Supremacist seeking approval, like the killers of Thomas à Becket in 1170, after which MLK could be safely trivialized by the American power pyramid’s many privatized propaganda ministries, and thus safely canonized as an American Secular Saint.

So now “I have a Dream” and not “America is the greatest purveyor of violence” is the official image of Martin Luther King, Jr., and is now an eternal part of the American National Ethos as an aspirational idea for us all, an idea against which all the power of our Status Quo Power Pyramid (and its terrifying Ministry of Love: the US Senate) works ceaselessly to ensure that it never becomes a reality. Such is canonization.


3 thoughts on “Ada Lovelace, Women Scientists, Dorothy Day, and Lost Human Potential

  1. agree… bureaucrats are canonized. even when they tolerate raping children and aren’t concerned about century old mass graves turning up at detention schools run by their orders.

  2. “Was Dorothy Day Too Left-Wing to Be a Catholic Saint?” was the headline of an article by Liam Stack in the NYTimes of Jan. 21, 2022. I wanted to answer, yes, and then, no, to whether the Vatican bureaucracy should keep its propaganda turning over by lassoing safely-dead figures into its cheerleaders’ club. Whatever Day’s confusions in America’s most confusing years—Prohibition, Depression, the ‘good’ war, and imperial build-up—she ought to be allowed her libertarian-anarchism unblessed. I prefer to remember her by what Casey Cep reported in the New Yorker, April 13th issue of 2020. “When the Chicago police raided the Industrial Workers of the World boarding house, Day was there, and got arrested for prostitution—only because the police couldn’t arrest people for socialism”. Or by her opposition in 1949 to the union-busting of Cardinal Spellman (”the war in Vietnam is a war for civilization”). She had interviewed Leon Trotsky at his perch in the Bronx and covered the Hunger March to Washington in 1932. The Catholic Worker that she founded with the Frenchman Peter Maurin in 1933 was a home-brew of Kropotkin, Proudhon, and religious fantasy. Those who grew up reading it, like myself, had to disentangle what was its never ungenerous confusions. Day said it: ”Don’t call me a saint; I don’t want to be dismissed so easily”.

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