A Somerville-owned portrait of Ada Lovelace, the nineteenth century mathematician often described as the first computer programmer, has been restored in anticipation of Ada Lovelace Day, which falls on 15 October.

Augusta Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace, was born the daughter of Lord Byron. Afraid that his own waywardness might be inherited – Lord Byron left Ada’s mother when Ada was still a baby – Lady Byron found the young girl an academic mentor in Mary Somerville. Somerville tutored Ada in both maths and manners.

The Mary Somerville collection, owned by Somerville College and held at the Bodleian Library, contains a significant number of letters from Lady Lovelace and her daughter to the Somerville family. They also include an invitation from Charles Babbage to Mary Somerville and her husband to view his new ‘Calculating Engine’.

Ada’s notes on this engine include what is now viewed as the first algorithm written for a machine to interpret, making her the world’s first computer programmer.

The portrait was painted by Count d’Orsay.

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