Ada Lovelace Day began in 2009, and honours the achievements of female pioneers in science and technology. The website, Finding Ada, explains:
Ada Lovelace was one of the world’s first computer programmers, and one of the first people to see computers as more than just a machine for doing sums. She wrote programmes for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, a general-purpose computing machine, despite the fact that it was never built. She also wrote the very first description of a computer and of software.
The idea behind the day is to tell people about an unsung heroine of science or technology, and why they mean something to you.
I’m cheating slightly, as I have more than one, but they’re all related. My first absolute heroine is Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. She was the first woman in Britain to gain a medical qualification, in 1865, having fought every step of the way to even be allowed to study at all. When she applied for her medical diploma (which would allow her to practice medicine), being turned down by every organisation other than the Society of Apothecaries. Elizabeth then went on to work at the New Hospital for Women, set up to allow poor women to be treated by female doctors. She married, but continued to practice medicine. Not content with being a pioneering female doctor, in 1908 she became the first female mayor in England, when she became Mayor of Aldeburgh.
My second group of women are commonly known as the Edinburgh Seven. These women fought to be permitted to study medicine at Edinburgh University, in 1869, and funded their own studies after it was decided that the university would not hold mixed sex classes. Although they were eventually allowed to study, it was decided that they would not be awarded degrees. These women were Sophia Jex-Blake, Isabel Thorne, Edith Pechey, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans, Emily Bovell and Mary Anderson.
Although the women did not graduate, the publicity and debate surrounding their cause undoubtedly paved the way for the admission of women to Scottish universities in 1892. The Edinburgh Seven had a big impact in their field, either moving abroad in order to gain qualifications, or continuing to fight their cause at home. Sophie Jex-Blake founded the London School of Medicine for Women, and went on to become Edinburgh’s first female doctor, in 1878.