Skip to main content

Biographies of individuals

On this page you will find some biographies of  individuals. Please let us know if you are aware of other good sources which might be included.

Ada Lovelace (1815-1852)

Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace was the only legitimate daughterof the poet Lord Byron. She is chiefly known for her work on Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. Her notes on the engine include what is recognised as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. Because of this, she is often described as the world’s first computer programmer. There are several biographies of Ada, among them: Ada, Countess of Lovelace: Byron’s Legitimate Daughter by Doris Langley Moore (John Murray 1977); The calculating passion of Ada Byron‘ by Joan Baum (Shoe String Press Inc 1986); Ada, the Enchantress of Numbers by  Betty A. Toole (Strawberry Press 1998); The Bride of Science by  Benjamin Woolley (McGraw Hill, 2002). Many articles and links about Ada can be found here.

Sofia Kovalveskaia (1850-1891)

Sofia Kovalevskaia was the first major Russian female mathematician, responsible for important original contributions to analysis, differential equations and mechanics, and the first woman appointed to a full professorship in Northern Europe. She was also one of the first women to work for a scientific journal as an editor.  There are  a number of biographies of Sofia: especially recommended are her autobiographical memoir A Russian childhood  and the biography A Convergence of Lives by Ann Hibner Koblitz. Sofia also wrote poetry, plays and articles, among them a fascinating account of her meetings with George Eliot on visits to London which you can find in English translation here.

Emmy Noether (1882-1935)

Emmy Noether has often been described  as the most important woman in the history of mathematics, she revolutionized the theories of rings,fields, and algebras. Numerous accounts of her life are to be found on the internet.

Her biography Emmy Noether 1882-1935 by Auguste Dick, first published 1982, has recently been republished Birkhauser 2012.

Mary Somerville (1780 – 1872)

Mary Somerville was a renown Scottish mathematician and scientist. Self taught, her name was established by her translation and commentary on Laplace's Méchanique Céleste.  Her scientific contributions were doubly significant: not only was she a woman working within a predominantly male domain, but modern science itself was a fledgling field struggling to claim a place in Victorian culture. She met with many of the leading scientists and other figures of the period and wrote books presenting the new scientific discoveries to the general public. She gave mathematical lessons to Ada Lovelace. Somerville College, Oxford is named in her honour; the college is currently preparing an online catalogue of her papers.

Especially recommended is her delightful and fascinating autobiographical memoir Personal Recollections, from Early Life to Old Age edited by her daughter, Martha Somerville and recently reprinted. There are two recent books: Mary Somerville and the World of Science by Allan Chapman and The ascent of Mary Somerville in 19th century society by Elisabetta Strickland. This link gives various other sources. Mary Somerville also features in the recent film Mr Turner.