Lady Lovelace and the Computer

Lady Lovelace and the Computer
Abigail Fillmore: Science, Medicine, Inventions and tech

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: One to three class periods


In 1834, while Millard Fillmore served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and Abigail and the two children lived in Washington, an English inventor named Charles Babbage designed what he called an analytical engine—in fact, the first effort to build a computer.  It is unknown whether the Fillmores knew of this invention; perhaps they did.  It is pretty clear, however, that even if they had known about it, they would not have thought it was of much importance.  No one really did, except Lady Lovelace.


Students who participate in this activity will learn about the history of the computer, will gain some understanding of the role of women in the 19th century, and will gain experience in analysis and synthesis of information and hypothesis-making.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet If possible, an old encyclopedia—one published before 1980 Timeline of Personal Computers link


1.  If you can find an old encyclopedia (before 1980), have students look up the entry under “computer.”   Have a brief discussion of computers then and now.
2.  Ask students if they know who invented the computer.  If they
don’t know, have them use the web sites listed below to learn the story of Charles Babbage and Lady Lovelace.  Divide the work among several groups, one researching Babbage, one researching Ada Lovelace, one looking at Lord Byron, one looking at the history of computers.
3.  When this research is complete, have a class discussion about why Lady Lovelace doesn’t seem to get more credit for her work on the computer.  What exactly did she do?  Why isn’t her name often associated with the invention of the computer?  Is it important that a software program developed by the Department of Defense in 1979 was named “Ada”?

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson can be extended by having the class research other women scientists, mathematicians, and inventors.  A good place to begin is:
     Biographies of Women Mathematicians 

Sources & Resources:

Web sites:

      Biography of Lady Lovelace 

      Another Biography of Lady Lovelace

     The Ada Picture Gallery 
     About Charles Babbage 
     About Lord Byron 
     History of computers 
     History of microcomputers 

This lesson was adapted from a Discovery School lesson, and further developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.