Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace: Feminist of the Day

Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace
Mathematician, writer of the first computer program
"No one knows what power lies yet undevelopped in that wiry system of mine."

I have a theory that you could tell a feminist story about any woman's life. It's probably not an original theory, but I can't remember where I might have read it..

That's not to say every woman is a feminist, but that every woman's life is fundamentally shaped by being a woman, partly because of the way reproduction is treated in our society, and partly because of what Simone de Beauvoir would describe as the fact that we are 'other'. If you looked at any woman's life you would see the effect of living at a misogynist society, and I believe you could write a story from that starting point.

I say this because I don't think Ada Byron King, Countess of Lovelace, was a feminist. She was a mathematician and a metaphysicist, she doesn't appear to have had any interest in women, either collectively, or individually. Nothing in her story screams "this is how women suffer", she didn't suffer from endless miscarriage, or illegal abortions, she . But all around the edges there are hints of her life lived as a woman. From a mother who couldn't distinguish between her daughter and herself, to the mysterious health problems that afflicted her, you can see how different her story would have been had she been a man.

Conclusion: Not a feminist, but since she wrote the first ever computer programme, and therefore is one of a long line of people who now bring lots of lovely information to my house whenever I want it, she has my eternal gratitude.

1 comment:

  1. I'm given to understand she died rather horribly, though, from uterine cancer and over-keen bloodletting by her physicians, while her ultra-religious mother/aunt (not sure which), refused to allow her morphine and circled around her deathbed chanting prayers.

    She edited Babbage's programs, and corrected mathematical mistakes in them, so was more of a co-first programmer than first programmer.