Obituary: Professor Dorothy Hodgkin
Wednesday 03 August 1994
For the whole of her scientific life from the time she came up to read chemistry in 1928 to her death Dorothy was associated with Somerville College, apart from a two- year spell at Newnham College, Cambridge. For 20 years from 1935 to 1955 she was tutor to science undergraduates. As tutor she taught not only chemistry but also looked after all the science students in the college, a fairly formidable task as it meant knowing about every science subject from zoology to
Many of her students opted to carry out final-year research projects under her guidance and several more were supervised by her for their DPhil degrees. A noticeable feature of this legacy is the number of women crystallographers in distinguished positions around the world. Dorothy was also noted for her ability to spot talent in those with unorthodox qualifications and there are many whom she nourished that have gone on to make valuable
She was the eldest of four sisters and from the age of 18 took responsibility for her siblings when her parents were abroad in what was then Palestine. On one occasion as an undergraduate, she failed to return at the start of term because she was caring for a younger sister through illness. This action illustrates the balance she achieved between personal caring relations and demands of science and education, a characteristic that she was to display throughout her life. Margery Fry, Principal of Somerville from 1926 to 1931, penal reformer and campaigner for the abolition of the death penalty, was a friend and mentor and it was through Fry that Dorothy met her future husband, Thomas Hodgkin, who was a nephew of Fry's.
In the early years Somerville, especially through Helen Darbishire (Principal 1931-45) and Dame Janet Vaughan (Principal 1945-67) supplied support and encouragement for her research and teaching and in later years she was to repay this with extraordinary generosity to the college with endowments from her many awards. On her retirement in 1977, she wrote: 'How valuable a part of my life Somerville has been and how grateful I am for all your/their sweetness, kindness, friendship, affection - as well as constant entertainment - over the last 40 somewhat exhausting but always interesting and (usually) happy years'.
Dorothy Hodgkin had the qualities of simplicity, directness, humility and a great wisdom about human beings and their affairs and abilities. Above all she displayed a great joy in her work and until the end of her life she would recall with great accuracy details of experiments and results that had enthralled her.
It is typical that she ended her James Bryce Memorial Lecture in Somerville in 1979 with a comment on how much science and scientific methods had changed but that 'individuals remain the same, happy in the world they work in and the problems they see before them'. She followed this with a quotation from Henry Miers, an Oxford mineralogist and later Principal of London University, that he had used in 1918 when X-rays were beginning to be used to solve crystal structures:
Nature never did betray
the heart that loved her, 'tis her
through all the years of this our life
from joy to joy.
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