Amazing Women of History

Ada Lovelace 

Ada Lovelace was born more than 200 years ago (1815) to Lord Byron (yes, the famous poet) and his wife, Annabella. Luckily Ada’s parents recognized her intelligence while she was quite young; tutors were able to provide her with the kind of education not usually made available to girls in the 1800s. In 1833, Ada met Charles Babbage at a demonstration of his invention, “The Difference Engine,” the calculating machine that used higher mathematics to approximate numeric differences. These two mathematicians kept in touch throughout Ada’s life, discussing how the equations could be solved using devices. When Babbage had Ada translate a book written by a French mathematician about his analytical machine, her notes made it clear that Ada recognized the device’s full potential. “Since the functions of the Analytical Engine are not defined, they can also be applied to things other than numbers. Ada writes that the Analytical Engine ‘holds a position wholly its own.’ Her vision of a machine that could also process musical notes, letters, and images anticipates modern computers by a hundred years. In her now famous note “G,” Lovelace also adds a detailed description of the computation of Bernoulli numbers with Babbage’s machine – an algorithm – which, in effect, makes her the world’s first computer programmer.”

Photo Credit: University of Bristol

Elizabeth Blackwell

 Elizabeth Blackwell was born in Bristol, England, in 1821 and moved with her family to Cincinnati, OH, in 1832. After her father’s death in 1838, Elizabeth, her sisters, and her mother became teachers to provide for their family. When Elizabeth was in her early 20s, she visited a friend who had uterine cancer. This friend told Elizabeth how difficult her treatment had been at the hands of male doctors and asked her, “‘ Why not study medicine? If I could have been treated by a lady doctor, my worst sufferings would have been spared.’ Elizabeth immediately rejected the idea. ‘I hated everything connected with the body and could not bear the sight of a medical book,’ she wrote in her autobiography, Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women.” Elizabeth eventually rethought the idea and graduated from Geneva College in 1849, becoming the first female doctor in the United States. A few years later, she established the first hospital in the United States staffed solely by women, “which eventually evolved into today’s New York-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan Hospital. And in 1868, she launched a medical college devoted entirely to the medical education of women, which was absorbed by what is today Weill Cornell Medicine.”

Photo Credit: Roger Viollet / Getty Images

Coco Chanel 

Coco Chanel was born in Saumur, France, on August 19, 1883, as Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel was orphaned at 12 when her mother died, and her father left her at an orphanage run by nuns. Her first jobs were as a seamstress and a cabaret singer at a Moulin’s commune in France. It was during this time that she was given the nickname Coco. Coco’s fashion empire began in 1910 when she opened her first shop. Her signature hats, to which timeless items such as the ‘little black dress‘ and comfortable two-piece suits, became hallmarks of her brand. Another Chanel classic is the ‘Chanel No. 5′ perfume, which was first sold in 1921; the “No. 5” is that it was the 5th formulation of the perfume. The Chanel brand floundered during the Great Depression, and the business shut down but was re-established in the 1950s by Coco, who was in her 70s. Coco was one of the early ‘influencers’ in fashion and style. Today’s influencers have not decided on the mid-century Coco’s rebellious approach to work and life.

Written by Lynn Fisher, GNL Editorial Staff