Admiral Grace Murray Hopper and Lady Augusta Ada Byron Lovelace

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Ada & Grace: Practical Visionaries

Imagine a computer programmer who still programs in bits and bytes and has never heard of the terms "bug" or "de-bugging." Then, stretch your mind much further, and try to imagine a world without computers. Most of us, no matter what age, don't have such powerful imaginations. But without the contributions of women like Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, who developed the first compiler, and Lady Augusta Ada Byron Lovelace, who made the idea of an Analytical Engine accessible to a world without computers, our most advanced computing device for general use would very likely still be a simple calculator.

Lovelace and Hopper are by no means the only women who have made invaluable contributions to the field
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Grace Hopper was the first woman to have a Navy destroyer named after her (USS Hopper), and the Institute for Women and Technology began the Grace Murray Celebration of Women in Computing in 1994. In trying to ascertain exactly what Ada and Grace accomplished, I've found that Grace Hopper's contributions are undisputed, perhaps because her accomplishments are more recent and well documented, while Ada Lovelace's importance to computer science is occasionally denied, as the following quote demonstrates:

It is often suggested that Ada was the world's first programmer. This is nonsense... Ada was probably the fourth, fifth or six [sic] person to write the programmes. Moreover all she did was rework some calculations Babbage had carried out years earlier. Ada's calculations were student exercises. Ada Lovelace figures in the history of the Calculating Engines as Babbage's interpretess, his "fair lady." As such her achievement was remarkable. ("Augusta Ada Lovelace")

The patronizing tone of this comment may not be as damaging as the blatant lies; perhaps Ada wasn't the first programmer, but her part in the birth of the computer is substantial and indisputable.

Augusta Ada Byron Lovelace (1815-1852), the only legitimate child of Lord Byron, called herself the "High-Priestess of Babbage's Engine" (Toole 197), and I think of her as a midwife of sorts. Lovelace met Babbage at a party in June, 1833 (Ada was nineteen years old,

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