[An absolutely fantastic photograph of Rosalind Franklin, found in “Rosalind Franklin: A Crucial Contribution” http://www.nature.com/scitable/topicpage/rosalind-franklin-a-crucial-contribution-6538012 ]
Rosalind Franklin, born July 25th, 1920 in London, England, was an Ashkenazi Jewish woman who contributed key scientific advances in the mid-twentieth century. Born to a well off Jewish family in England, she considered herself to be an agnostic Jew who kept many of her cultural traditions while being skeptical of the existence of a higher power.
She was privileged enough to attend one of few London schools that taught the sciences to girls, and at the young age of fifteen she decided that she was going to become a scientist. Enrolling in 1938 at Cambridge where she studied physics and chemistry, she graduated in 1941 and went on to earn a PhD. Franklin went on to fill a post-doctoral position in France, after which she returned to England and worked as a researcher. Throughout her entire career within the academy, she constantly suffered under the extremely sexist climate which prevented women, for example, from entering the dining halls at English universities and therefore keeping them from fully engaging in the scientific community on university campuses. Rosalind Franklin’s most famous contribution to the scientific world involves her research on DNA, specifically related to its double-helix shape.*
Unfortunately, Rosalind Franklin passed away in her mid-thirties from ovarian cancer. Despite being gravely ill towards the end of her life, she continued to research and publish within her field of molecular biology, and was even appointed to a new position mere months before she died. Rosalind Franklin is a testament to the struggles that countless brilliant women have endured working in patriarchal spaces such as Western universities. We here at the Historical Hotties Blog consistently try to address – in our own academic lives – the injustices we see in academia, and we are forever grateful that women such as Rosalind Franklin came before us to help pave the way.
While neither Spirit nor myself are scientists or read much within the various scientific fields, we feel it is important to acknowledge the struggles that women in the sciences have faced and continue to face to this day. Importantly, by highlighting a scientist such as Rosalind Franklin on the Blog, we hope to also force our readers to grapple with the uncomfortable reality that very often women in the sciences (as with other disciplines) face consistent objectification and in mainstream media portrayals of their fields. By featuring Franklin today, we want to acknowledge how oftentimes social constructions of “beauty” or “attraction” are used against various historical subjects in order to invalidate their full, nuanced, and complicated humanity as persons.
Thank you, Rosalind Franklin, for dedicating yourself to the study of science and for doing so unapologetically.
*While I would explain more about her marvellous work as a scientist, I am remiss to admit that no matter how much I have tried to understand it, this cultural historian has no idea what is going on within the study of DNA – but I encourage you to learn more about her contributions!!
Maddox, Brenda. Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012.