Women’s History Month – Ada Lovelace

For the month of March, the world celebrates Women’s History Month. I am devoting a week each in March to one woman I am inspired by. 

For this week, I am devoting the week to Ada Lovelace.

Augusta Ada Byron was born on 10 December 1815 to Lord Byron and Lady Byron, the only legitimate child of the Lord. She was named after Byron’s half-sister, Augusta Leigh and was called Ada himself. On 16 January 1816, Lord Byron commanded Lady Byron to leave for her parents’ house with their child. Although English law at the time granted full custody to the father, he wanted nothing to do with his daughter as he had hoped for a son and was disappointed. He did, however, ask his sister to keep him informed of Ada’s welfare. 

Lord Byron died when she was eight years old. Lovelace was not shown the family portrait of her father until her 20th birthday. She was not close to her mother, but that was the only parental figure in her life. She was always left with her maternal grandmother who doted on her. In one letter to her mother, Lady Byron, referred to her child as “it”. Lady Byron had her teenage daughter watched by close friends for any sign of moral deviation. Lovelace dubbed these observers the “Furies” and later complained they exaggerated and invented stories about her. 

She was often ill which began in early childhood. She had migraines since the age of eight. In June 1829, she was paralyzed after a bout of measles. She was forced into bed rest for over a year. By 1831, she was able to walk with crutches. Despite this, she developed her mathematical and technological skills. 

Ada had an affair with a tutor in 1933 at the age of 18. She tried to elope with him but she was caught. Her tutor’s relatives called her mother. Lady Byron and her friends covered the incident up to prevent a public scandal. 

She was presented at court at 17, and became a popular “belle of the season”. In 1833, she became close friends with her tutor Mary Somerville who happened to introduce her to Charles Babbage. Her other acquaintances include Andrew Crosse, Sir David Brewster, Charles Wheatstone, Michael Faraday and the author Charles Dickens. By 1834, she was a regular at court and attended many events. 

Babbage invited Lovelace to see the prototype for his difference engine. She became fascinated with the machine and used her relationship with Somerville to visit Babbage as often as she could. Babbage was impressed by Lovelace’s intellect and analytic skills. He called her “The Enchantress of Number”. 

On 8 July 1835 she married William, 8th Baron King, becoming Lady King. They had three children, Byron (born 1836), Anne Isabella (Annabella) (born 1837) and Ralph Gordon (born 1839). Ada was a descendant of the extinct Barons Lovelace and in 1838, her husband was made Earl of Lovelace and Viscount Ockham, making her the Countess of Lovelace. 

In the 1840s, Ada flirted with scandals: firstly, from a relaxed approach to extra-marital relationships with men, leading to rumours of affairs; and secondly, from her love of gambling. 

In 1840, Babbage was invited to give a seminar at the University of Turin about his Analytical Engine. Ada’s notes describes an algorithm for the Analytical Engine to compute Bernoulli numbers. It is considered to be the first published algorithm ever specifically tailored for implementation on a computer, and Ada Lovelace has often been cited as the first computer programmer for this reason. The engine was never completed and so her program was never tested. 

From 1832, her mathematical abilities began to emerge, and her interest in mathematics dominated the majority of her adult life. In the 1840s, the mathematician Augustus De Morgan extended her “much help in her mathematics studies” including study of advanced calculus topics including the “numbers of Bernoulli”. In a letter to Lady Byron, De Morgan suggested that Ada’s skill in mathematics might lead her to become “an original mathematical investigator, perhaps of first-rate eminence”. 

Lovelace often questions basic assumptions through integrating poetry and science. Whilst studying differential calculus, she wrote to De Morgan: 

“I may remark that the curious transformations many formulae can undergo, the unsuspected and to a beginner apparently impossible identity of forms exceedingly dissimilar at first sight, is I think of the chief difficulties in the early part of the mathematical studies. I am often reminded of certain sprites and fairies one reads of, who are at one’s elbows in one shape now, amd the next minute in a form most dissimilar.” 

Lovelace believed that intuition and imagination were critical to effectively applying mathematical and scientific concepts. She valued metaphysics as much as mathematics, viewing both as tools for exploring “the unseen worlds around us”. 

Lovelace died at the age of 36 on 27 November 1852, from uterine cancer. The illness lasted several months, in which time Annabella took command over whom Ada saw, and excluded all of her friends and confidants. Under her mother’s influence, Ada had a religious transformation and was coaxed into repenting of her previous conduct and making Annabella her executor. She lost contact with her husband after confessing something to him on 30 August which caused him to abandon her bedside. It is not known what she told him. She was buried, at her request, next to her father at the Church of St. Mary Magdalene in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire. A memorial plaque, written in Latin, to her and her father is in the chapel attached to Horsley Towers.


In 1953, more than a century after her death, Ada Lovelace’s notes on Babbage’s Analytical Engine were republished as an appendix to B. V. Bowden’s Faster than Thought: A Symposium on Digital Computing Machines. The engine has now been recognised as an early model for a computer and her notes as a description of a computer and software.

Women’s History Month – Marilyn Monroe

For the month of March, the world celebrates Women’s History Month. I am devoting a week each in March to one woman I am inspired by. 

For this week, I am devoting the week to Marilyn Monroe.

Norma Jeane Mortenson was born on 1 June 1926 to Gladys Pearl Baker at Los Angeles General Hospital. Gladys was not mentally or financially stable or prepared for a child when Norma was born although her early childhood is being noted as being stable and happy. Gladys placed Norma with evangelical Christian foster parents Albert and Ida Bolender in Hawthorne. It was at this time that Norma did not see her mother very often but in 1933, Gladys bought a small house in Hollywood and moved with the 7-year-old to that place. They had lodgers who stayed with them, actors and the like, from time to time. 

It wasn’t long before Gladys had a mental breakdown and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1934. She spent most of her life in and out of hospitals and rarely made contact with her daughter. Norma became a ward of the state, with her mother’s friend Grace Goddard looking after her. 

In the next sixteen months, Norma lived with friends of her mother and it is assumed she was sexually abused during this time. She’d always been a shy girl but it was around this time that she developed a stutter and became withdrawn. In 1935, she stayed briefly with Grace Goddard and her husband, but just a few months later she was placed in the Los Angeles Orphans Home. It did not last long. Grace returned to take her out of the orphanage in 1937. Unfortunately, this stay did not last as Grace’s husband was molesting her. She ended up staying with friends and relatives of friends in Los Angeles and Compton. 

Norma said that her experiences as a child made her want to be an actress: “I didn’t like the world around me because it was kind of grim…when I heard that this was acting. I said that’s what I want to be.” 

Norma finally found something a little more permanent when she moved in with Grace’s aunt Ana Lower in Sawtelle. This was in September 1938. She was enrolled in school and excelled in writing and contributing to the school newspaper but she was not a bright student in other subjects. Owing to Ana’s failing health, Norma was returned to live with the Goddard’s in Van Nuys in 1941. 

In 1942, Grace’s husband was relocated to West Virginia. California child protection laws prevented them from taking Norma with them, so she was forced to return to the orphanage. Instead, she married her neighbor’s son, James Doughtery, a 21-year-old factory worker on 19 June, 1942, just after her 16th birthday. 

She dropped out of school and later said she was “dying of boredom” during her marriage. In 1943, Dougherty enlisted as a Merchant Marine and was stationed on Santa Catalina Island where she moved. 

Norma moved in with her in-laws when Dougherty was sent out to the Pacific and remained there for two years. Norma got a job in a munitions factory. She met a photographer in late 1944 who was told to shoot morale-boosting pictures of female workers in the factory. Her pictures weren’t used but she still quit her job in 1945 and began modeling for that photographer and his friends. Defying her husband’s wishes, she moved on her own and signed a contract in August 1945. 

She began modeling for the pin-up fashion in magazines and advertisements. She dyed her own hair blonde and straightened it so it would give her more jobs. 

Norma signed a contract with Ben Lyon at 20th Century Fox in 1946, but some executives were unenthusiastic about it. The only reason she was signed was so RKO Pictures, a rival at the time, could not sign her. Lyon and Norma chose the screen name, Marilyn Monroe, for Lyon’s love of broadway star Marilyn Miller and Norma’s mother’s maiden name, Monroe. 

In September 1946, she divorced Dougherty as he was opposed to her career. 

She spent months learning how to sing, dance and act. She was given her first roles in 1947 but after consideration, Fox did not renew her contract in late 1947. She returned to modelling but she was determined to make it as an actress. 

She was signed in March 1948 by Columbia Pictures. Here, her look was modelled after Rita Hayworth and her hair was bleached platinum blonde. She performed in one movie for them. Her contract was not renewed in September 1948. 

It was not until 1950 that she was cast in more than one movie through the William Morris Agency, the vice president Johnny Hyde, was her lover. In 1950, Hyde negotiated a 7 year contract for Monroe with Century Fox. Hyde died only days later, leaving her devastated. This was when her popularity began to grow. 

In early 1952, she began a public romance with retired New York Yankees baseball star Joe DiMaggio. This was around the time her bombshell and sex symbol personality was starting. She wore a revealing dress when acting as Grand Marshal at the Miss America Pageannt parade, and told gossip columnist Earl Wilson that she usually wore no underwear. By the end of the year she was named the “it” girl of 1952. 

It was around this time she gained a reputation for being difficult to work with which only worsened as her career grew. She was late or didn’t show up at all, couldn’t remember her lines, and would demand re-takes. Her problems have been attributed to a combination of perfectionism, low self-esteem, and stage fright. To alleviate her anxiety and chronic insomnia, she began to use barbituates, amphetamines and alcohol. She didn’t become addicted until 1956. 

In 1953, her sex symbol status was confirmed when Hugh Hefner featured her on the cover and as a centrefold in the first issue of Playboy. Monroe did not consent to the publication. The cover image was a photograph taken at the Miss America Pageant parade in 1952 and the centrefold featured on of her nude photographs taken in 1949. 

On January 14, 1954, Marilyn married Joe DiMaggio in San Francisco due to the studio not wanting to renew her contract and not allowing her to choose the movies she wanted to be in. The press followed her new publicity stunt and not the studio’s. Because of this attack, the studio offered her a new contract, a bonus of $100,000 and a starring role in The Seven Year Itch

While filming that scene from the movie, the shoot lasted several hours and attracted nearly 2,000 spectators. It also happened to mark the end of her marriage to DiMaggio who was infuriated by it. In October 1954, Monroe filed for divorce. 

1955 saw Monroe undergo psychoanalysis and started to date actor Marlon Brando and playwright Arthur Miller. She legally changed her name to Marilyn Monroe in 1956. Monroe married Miller in June in New York. She converted to Judaism. 

Monroe started to become dependent on alcohol and drugs at this point and even had a miscarriage while working alongside Laurence Olivier. She took an 18 month hiatus to concentrate on her family life. She had an ectopic pregnancy in 1957 and another miscarriage a year later which was linked to her endometriosis. 

During the filming of “Some Like It Hot”, Monroe likened the production to a sinking ship and said, “why should I worry, I have no phallic symbol to lose”. 

The last film Monroe would complete was The Misfits which Miller had written to provide her a dramatic role. Her marriage to Arthur was over by this point. 

Her health was failing, she was in pain from gallstones, and her drug addiction was so severe that her makeup usually had to be applied when she was still asleep under the influence of barbituates. 

In 1961, she underwent surgery for endometriosis and spent four weeks in hospital for depression. She was helped by Joe DiMaggio who had rekindled a friendship with her. She began to date his friend Frank Sinatra for several months. 

Monroe was too sick to work for the next six weeks, but despite confirmations by multiple doctors, the studio pressured her by alleging publicly that she was faking it. On May 19, she took a break to sing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” on stage at President John F. Kennedy’s early birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden in New York. She drew attention with her costume: a beige, skintight dress covered in rhinestones, which made her appear nude. Monroe’s trip to New York caused even more irritation for Fox executives, who had wanted her to cancel it. 

Her housekeeper Eunice Murray was staying overnight on the evening of August 4, 1962. Murray woke at 3:00 a.m. on August 5 and sensed that something was wrong. She saw light from under Monroe’s bedroom door but was unable to get a response and found the door locked. Murray then called Monroe’s psychiatrist, Ralph Greenson, who arrived at the house shortly after and broke into the bedroom through a window to find Monroe dead in her bed. Monroe’s physician, Hyman Engelberg, arrived at around 3:50 a.m.  and pronounced her dead. At 4:25 a.m., the Los Angeles Police Department was notified.

Monroe died between 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on August 4; the toxicology report showed that the cause of death was acute barbiturate poisoning. She had 8 mg% (milligrams per 100 milliliters of solution) chloral hydrate and 4.5 mg% of pentobarbital (Nembutal) in her blood, and 13 mg% of pentobarbital in her liver. Empty medicine bottles were found next to her bed. The possibility that Monroe had accidentally overdosed was ruled out because the dosages found in her body were several times the lethal limit.  

Monroe’s doctors stated that she had been “prone to severe fears and frequent depressions” with “abrupt and unpredictable mood changes”, and had overdosed several times in the past, possibly intentionally. Due to these facts and the lack of any indication of foul play, deputy coroner Thomas Noguchi classified her death as a probable suicide.

In 2022, it was proved by DNA that Norma’s father was a Charles Stanley Gifford who passed in 1965. He worked with Gladys and they had an affair in 1925. 

According to The Guide to United States Popular Culture, “as an icon of American popular culture, Monroe’s few rivals in popularity include Elvis Presley and Mickey Mouse… no other star has ever inspired such a wide range of emotions—from lust to pity, from envy to remorse. 

Virginia Woolf Day

I must confess, I did not read anything by Virginia Woolf when I was young. I’d not even heard her name until I was in my teen years and even then I hadn’t read anything. I had, however, watched movies based on her books. I found myself startled and yet impressed by the movie ‘The Hours’. I loved that it told the story through different generations and showed you the difference of how women were represented through time.

Today, is her day. She was born on 25th January and although her ending was immensely sad, I hope I have done her justice by noting down her most important works and milestones in her life to give you a little insight into a woman who was ahead of her time and who battled what a lot of authors do – crippling self-doubt.

Virginia was born 25 January 1882 in London, England with the name Adeline Virginia Stephen. Her father, Leslie Stephen, was an eminent literary figure and the first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography. Her mother, Julia Jackson, was a great beauty and had a reputation of saintly self-sacrifice.

Julia and Leslie married in 1878 and had four children, Vanessa (born 1879), Thoby (born 1880), Virginia, and Adrian (born 1883). It is said Virginia was jealous that Adrian appeared to be her mother’s favourite.

The family made summer vacations annually from their town house in London, near Kensington Gardens, to Talland House on the rugged Cornwall coast. This structured Virginia’s childhood world in terms of opposites: city and country, winter and summer, repression and freedom and so on.

When her mother died in 1895 at a young age, Virginia was just 13, and her already booming creativity took a dive. She delved into a depression that took over her. In 1904, her father died, and it was then that Virginia had a nervous breakdown.

While she was recovering, it was her sister that moved the Stephen children to the bohemian Bloomsbury section of London. It was here that the children could live independently, free to pursue studies, to paint or write and to entertain. Virginia would first meet her husband in November 1904, Leonard Woolf. He dined with the Stephen’s just before sailing to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to become a colonial administrator.

It was in 1906, after a family trip to Greece, that Virginia’s brother Thoby died of typhoid fever at just 26 years old. Virginia was said to have grieved but did not fall into depression. She turned to the written word to grieve and to also recover from the “loss” of her sister to her new husband, Clive Bell.

It was while viewing art in the summer of 1908, Virginia was committed to creating “some kind of whole made of shivering fragments” to capturing “the flight of mind”. She was determined to ‘reform’ the novel by creating a holistic form embracing aspects of life that were different from the Victorian novel. She experimented with a novel which she called Melymbrosia.

In 1911, Leonard Woolf returned from the East after resigning from the colonial service. He and Virginia married in August 1912. She continued to work on her novel while he wrote an anti-colonialist novel called The Village in the Jungle and The Wise Virgins, which was a Bloosmbury exposé. Leonard became a political writer and an advocate for peace and justice.

Between 1910 and 1915, Virginia’s mental health was precarious.

Virginia based many of her novel’s characters on real-life people ranging from her father, her siblings and sometimes even herself.

Woolf’s manic-depressive worries (that she was a failure as a writer and a woman, that she was despised by her sister and unloved by Leonard) provoked a suicide attempt in September 1913. Late in 1915, she overcame the “vile imaginations” that had threatened her sanity. She kept the demons of mania and depression mostly at bay for the rest of her life.

In 1917, the Woolfs bought a printing press and founded the Hogarth Press. They published their own Two Stories in 1917. It consisted of works from both Leonard and Virginia.

In 1919 they bought a cottage in Rodmell village called Monk’s House, which looked out over the Sussex Downs and the meadows where the River Ouse wound down to the English Channel. Virginia could walk or bicycle to visit her sister in Charleston and then retreat to Monk’s House to write. She envisioned a new book that would apply the theories of ‘Modern Novels’ and the achievements of her short stories to the novel form.

In her novel, Jacob’s Room (1922), she achieved such emotion, transforming personal grief over the death of Thoby Stephen into a “spiritual shape”.

At the beginning of 1924, the Woolfs moved their city residence from the suburbs back to Bloomsbury, where they were less isolated from London society. It was here that the aristocratic Vita Sackville-West began to court Virginia, a relationship that would blossom into a lesbian affair. Having already written a story about a Mrs Dalloway, Woolf thought of a foiling device that would pair that highly sensitive woman with a shell-shocked war victim, a Mr Smith, so that “the sane and the insane” would exist “side by side”.

In A Room of One’s Own (1929), Woolf blamed women’s absence from history not on their lack of brains and talent but on their poverty. For her 1931 talk “Professions for Women” , Woolf studied the history of women’s education and employment and argued that unequal opportunities for women negatively affect all of society. She urged women to destroy the “angel in the house”, a reference to Coventry Patmore’s poem of that title, the quintessential Victorian paean to women who sacrifice themselves to men.

Woolf began a novel called The Pargiter’s but she feared she would never finish. Putting it away, she wrote a mock biographic of Flush, the dog of poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She went back to her novel and renamed it The Years. She narrated 50 years of family history through the decline of class and patriarchal systems, the rise of feminism and the threat of another war. She was desperate to finish the book, so she lightened the book with poetic echoes of gestures, objects and colours cutting epiphanies for Eleanor Pargiter and explicit references to women’s bodies. The novel illustrates the damage done to women and society over the years by sexual repression, ignorance and discrimination. Published in 1937, The Years became a best seller.

The Beginning of the End

Woolf’s only saving grace against Adolf Hitler, World War II and her own despair was her writing. During the bombing in 1940 and 1941, she worked on her memoir. In her novel Between the Acts, war threatens art and humanity itself. Facing such horrors as the threat of invasion, Virginia found she was unable to write. The demons of self-doubt that she had kept at bay for so long returned to haunt her. On March 28, 1941, fearing that she now lacked the resilience to battle them, she walked behind Monk’s House and down to the River Ouse, put stones in her pockets, and drowned herself.

It would take three weeks for her body to be discovered in the river. In her suicide note to her husband, she tried to offer him comfort.

“I want to say that – everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer.”

Her Legacy

Woolf’s haunting language, her prescient insights into wide-ranging historical, political, feminist, and artistic issues, and her revisionist experiments with novelistic form during a remarkably productive career altered the course of Modernist and postmodernist letters.

Her Popular Books

The Voyage Out (1915)

The Mark on the Wall (1917)

Night and Day (1919)

Jacob’s Room (1922)

Mrs Dalloway (1925)

Orlando: A Biography (1928)

To the Lighthouse (1927)

A Room of One’s Own (1929)

The Lady in the Looking Glass (1929)

The Waves (1931)

The Years (1937)

Between the Acts (1941)



Happy Krampusnacht

It’s the 5th of December…and today is Krampusnacht.

I learned of Krampus from a movie, funnily enough, isn’t that how we all learn about such historical facts? It was a story which I found a little horrific but also oddly comforting. I mean, we let a jolly old man in a red suit into our houses on December 24 every year, or so we tell our children…why not have a team of good and evil peruse houses and reward or punish children?

I’m not sure how or why the legend came to be, and many have claimed it is over a thousand years old and linked to a pagan ritual for the winter solstice.

So, with that, let me tell you what I learned about Krampus.

Who is Krampus?

It is believed that Krampus is a half-goat, half-demon who punishes misbehaving children. Forget Santa’s naughty and nice list, you don’t want a visit from Krampus. He won’t be delivering coal to your stockings. Instead, it is said he would chase and beat naughty children with sticks, even on occasion eating them or taking them to Hell.

Krampus is the devilish companion to St Nicholas, who funnily enough, has his own day on December 6 which I will go into a little further down.

The Krampus Night (Krampusnacht) story originated in Germany, as most sources state, and given that his name is derived from a German word, I’m tempted to believe it.

After all, Krampen means claw.

What did he do to naughty children?

While St Nicholas rewarded nice children, Krampus, according to legend, beat children who were naughty with branches and sticks. In some cases, he was said to have eaten or taken them to hell. This story was so obviously created for children to behave during the year, and you know, sometimes when I’m in line at the shops and I see kids acting up with their poor mother or father, I understand why a parent would tell them the story of Krampus. What’s a little fear to knock some sense into you?  

How did the story come about?

Krampus was thought to have been part of pagan rituals for the winter solstice. According to legend, he is the son of Hel, the Norse god of the underworld. With the spread of Christianity, Krampus became associated with Christmas-despite the Catholic church trying to ban him.

It is said that both the creature and St Nicholas arrive on the evening of December 5. Krampus deals with the bad kids and St Nicholas rewards the good.

December 6 is St Nicholas Day, where children awaken to find their gifts or nurse their injuries. I think I’d much prefer a lump of coal…wouldn’t you?

I’m sure I know a mother or two who would be horrified to find their child had injuries after waking from a sleep!

Does anyone still believe in Krampus?

Well, festivities do continue to this day. There is the Krampuslauf or Krampus run. This activity involves alcohol, people dressed as the creature parade through streets to scare those who have dared to look upon him and upon occasion, chasing people. There have even been reports that those who participate by chasing, will chase delinquent children, and hit them with sticks.

These festivities are believed to have arisen in the last 20th century in order to preserve the cultural heritage. It is most popular in Austria and Germany, however, over the last few years, some places in the United States have started with parades and similar festivities to mark the night of Krampus.

In summation, I can see a lot of parallels with our Santa. A man who can see whether a child has been good or bad all year round. The old ‘Don’t you make me call Santa. I’ll tell him not to bring your presents’ line which I know my mother used a time or two on me.  It gives a whole new meaning to “you better watch out, you better not cry” from one of my favourite carols.

You can find out more about Krampus below or by checking out these movies: https://screenrant.com/horror-krampus-christmas-every-movie-ranked/

Sources: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Krampus, https://historythings.com/krampusnacht-what-is-it-and-how-did-it-start/