Ada Lovelace Day

Today is Ada Lovelace Day – a day to blog about admirable women in technology or science.

Ada was a fairly special lady. Born in 1815, she was the only legitimate child of Lord Byron and because of his somewhat precarious lifestyle Ada’s mother pushed her towards the more concrete educational subjects of maths and science. Lovelace added notes and calculations to, and translated a memoir of, an analytical engine written by Luigi Menabrea. Though these calculations were not carried out, Ada’s work described the concept of a computer – that’s a pretty big achievement for the 19th Century.

When I think of professions women are still not on par in, I generally think of politics – but that’s a discussion for another day. That said – I can name strong women (that I may or may not admire) in politics today, but I struggle to name women in science and technology. While that’s partly my fault for not paying enough attention, it’s equally that there’s a dearth of women in science and technology. Things like the fact that the Royal Society didn’t admit female fellows until 1945 can’t have helped.


Grandma Liz and Technology

In technology, I’m going to say a quick word about my Grandma Liz. She’s led the way in our family – she had a faster computer, faster internet, and a better understanding of the way the internet worked than I did for a long time. She introduced me to ICQ (if I remember right) as a way of meeting random people to chat to in different languages – providing a way to practice the languages she is learning through Massey University in New Zealand. She certainly does a lot to broaden my horizons in IT and helped to spark my interest in all things digital. As the link above is proof, she even tweets and has done for quite some time. She’s quite a special lady…and it turns out my family’s not the only ones who think so.

Two week’s ago, Grandma Liz hit the New Zealand Herald for being in the right place at the right time. I have nothing to add other than how proud I am to be her granddaughter and how thankful I am for the emails in Spanish and her general willingness to embrace technology.

Right, time for the completely-unrelated-to-me woman I admire in science – Elizabeth Garrett Anderson.


Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917) and Medicine

I’m currently spending small chunks of time at the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson wing of University College Hospital, opened in 2008. Until today, however, I was unaware of the awesomeness of EGA and why this is such a brilliant name for a wing that deals with the totality of issues that are women’s health.

Her first attempts at education in the medical sciences involved enrolment as a nurse at Middlesex Hospital only to attend classes intended for the (male) doctors. They kicked her out. Having been denied entry to any other medical school, EGA became the first female doctor in England by passing the Society of Apothecaries exam. Amusingly, the Society then changed its rules to prevent other women for doing the same. With her father’s help and support, she established a dispensary for women in London in 1866 and was made a visiting physician to the East London Hospital in 1870. In 1872, she founded the New Hospital for Women in London and played a significant part in the 1876 Act of Parliament which eventually allowed women into the official medical profession.

Just when you thought she couldn’t get any more empowered, she retired to Aldeburgh on the Suffolk Coast in 1902, and in 1908 was elected the first female mayor in England. Both herself and her daughter were members of the suffragette movement, campaigning for votes for women.

More details may be found here and here. (Hat tip – BBC History and The Independent)

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