Dorothy Crowfoot HODGKIN, om, frs (1910–1994)

Crystallographer, Nobel Laureate

94 Woodstock Road, Oxford

Dorothy Hodgkin

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin was born in Cairo to John Winter Crowfoot, a colonial civil servant in the education department, and his wife Molly (née Hood). In 1914 Molly brought Dorothy and her sisters back to England and settled them with John’s parents in Worthing, though she returned to her husband in Khartoum. In 1920 the family made their English home in Geldeston near Beccles, although the parents continued to spend most of the year in the Sudan. At first taught at home, she went on to attend the Sir John Leman Grammar School in Beccles.

Dorothy had shown a very early interest in chemistry, then regarded as a boys’ subject, and found a supportive teacher at her school. She was accepted to read chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford, in 1928. The undergraduate course at that time did not include x-ray crystallography but she was inspired by the pioneering work of Sir William and Lawrence Bragg and had the opportunity to do her fourth-year research in that field. So began her life’s work on the structures of medically important natural chemicals such as antibiotics, vitamins, and proteins. After gaining a First she studied for a PhD in Cambridge under the great crystallographer J. D. Bernal. In 1934 she was invited back to Somerville as a research fellow (later fellow and tutor) and was given at first a somewhat makeshift laboratory of her own in the University Museum of Natural History. By 1945 she had determined through x-ray diffraction techniques the structure of penicillin, by 1955 that of Vitamin B12, and by 1969 the structure of insulin, a crowning achievement.

Meanwhile in 1937 she had married Thomas Hodgkin and had been bringing up a family of three children, Luke, Elizabeth, and Toby. Thomas found his métier as a lecturer in adult education and spent much time away from Oxford in the north of England during the war and later in Africa, dedicated to educational projects in the developing nations.

94 Woodstock Road

From 1957 to 1968 Dorothy took a lease on 94 Woodstock Road (above). The house also provided a home for Dorothy’s sister Joan Payne and her five children, which gave Dorothy some freedom to travel and spend time with Thomas in Africa. Their final home was at Crab Mill, an old Hodgkin family house, at Ilmington.

In 1964 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, to this day the only British woman to have gained the award for science and only the third woman to do so, after Marie Curie and Irene Joliot-Curie. This honour was followed in 1965 by her appointment to the Order of Merit. She was now a figure of international standing and used it to support causes close to her heart. In 1975 she became President of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, campaigning against nuclear weapons. As Chancellor of Bristol University she campaigned against university cuts. She had an internationalist outlook and made many visits to China, India and other developing countries to encourage the exchange of scientists and students. In 1993, though frail and confined to a wheelchair, she made the journey to Beijing to attend the International Congress of Crystallography. The next year she died at Crab Mill and is buried in Ilmington churchyard.

Source: Dorothy Hodgkin: A Life by Georgina Ferry (1998)

The plaque was unveiled at 94 Woodstock Road on 5 May 2016. Elspeth Garman, Professor of molecular biophysics at Oxford and a leading crystallographer, gave the address. Among those attending were Luke Hodgkin (son), Elizabeth Hodgkin (daughter), and other family and friends, including the actress Miriam Margolyes, representatives of Oxford University Chemistry Department, and Dr Alice Prochaska, Principal of Somerville College.

Hodgkin plaque


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