Ada Lovelace Day!

It’s Ada Lovelace Day! Ada Lovelace Day is about recognizing women in science and encouraging women to enter scientific fields. This year, there will be a massive editing of Wikipedia to add women scientists to the site and update existing articles.

I decided to honor Ada Lovelace Day with an illustration of the Countess of Lovelace herself.


It took me seven and a half hours over a few days. (It’s for sale if you like it.) I’m most proud of her nose. I spent a lot of time shading her skin – it’s not something I’m used to, so I hope it looks okay.


I based my picture on a portrait from 1836 by Margaret Sarah Carpenter, a watercolor picture from 1840 by Alfred Edward Chalon (see my note below*), and a portrait of Louise of Orléans for the 1840s for dress and hair.

Alfred Edward Chalon (1840)
watercolor by Alfred Edward Chalon (1840)

I decided to put Ada in 1840s costume because she published what is considered the first computer program in the early 1840s. Also, 1830s fashion is just hideous. Show me a woman’s outfit from the 1830s that doesn’t make you want to set it on fire.

portrait by Margaret Sarah Carpenter (1836)
portrait by Margaret Sarah Carpenter (1836)

In my portrait, Ada holds a digital tablet which displays a punch card that would work with Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine. The background is a photo of Babbage’s Difference Engine taken by Carsten Ullrich, used under Creative Commons license.

If you want to learn more about Ada Lovelace, I invite you to read The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason and Byron’s Daughter by Benjamin Woolley. Woolley does an excellent job of situating Ada’s life within her family history (being Lord Byron’s child), English history, and the history of science.

He frames her life as a representation of the conflict between art and science in the Romantic and early Victorian period: since her father was a reckless poet who slept his way across Europe (and with his half-sister), Ada’s mother had her tutored almost exclusively in mathematics and sciences out of fear that she would turn out like Lord Byron. Obviously such an upbringing caused problems for Ada, as did the fact that she was the daughter of one of England’s first celebrities. It’s an enlightening read that is also very personal.

*note on Chaton’s portrait: This idealized portrait was first drawn by Chaton in 1838 and turned into an etching by William Henry Mote. Mote’s etching shop produced prints for everyday people to view and buy – basically celebrity pictures for the masses.

It’s unclear whether Chaton made his drawing from life, but the largeness of the eyes and shape of the mouth lead me to believe that it was not, or that he idealized the portrait.

detail of Chalon's watercolor
detail of Chalon’s watercolor

A note on Ada’s eye color: Chaton’s watercolor gives her brown eyes, but Ada’s eyes were blue. They are clearly blue in the Carpenter portrait; additionally, both of Ada’s parents had blue eyes and so it would be impossible for her to have any other color.

detail of Carpenter's portrait
detail of Carpenter’s portrait

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