Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin – WOMAN of ACTION™


A Celebration of Women™

is pleased to Celebrate the Life of yet another treasure in our history of powerful women. Her work in scientific fields and beyond has lead to huge breakthroughs in structural and medicinal chemistry- the fantastic legacy of an extraordinary woman.

“She will be remembered as a great chemist, a saintly, gentle and tolerant lover of people, and a devoted protagonist of peace.”     -M. F. Perutz about Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin






Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin



Dorothy Mary Crowfoot was born in Cairo, Egypt, on May 12, 1910.

John Winter Crowfoot, her father, was working in the Egyptian Education Service. He moved soon afterwards to the Sudan, where he later became both Director of Education and of Antiquities; Dorothy visited the Sudan as a girl in 1923, and acquired a strong affection for the country.

sudan_mapAfter his retirement from the Sudan in 1926, her father gave most of his time to archaeology, working for some years as Director of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem and carrying out excavations on Mount Ophel, at Jerash, Bosra and Samaria.

Her mother, Grace Mary Crowfoot (born Hood) was actively involved in all her father’s work, and became an authority in her own right on early weaving techniques. She was also a very good botanist and drew in her spare time the illustrations to the official Flora of the Sudan.

Dorothy Crowfoot spent one season between school and university with her parents, excavating at Jerash and drawing mosaic pavements, and she enjoyed the experience so much, that she seriously considered giving up chemistry for archaeology.

She became interested in chemistry and in crystals at about the age of 10.

This interest was encouraged by Dr. A.F. Joseph, a friend of her parents in the Sudan, who gave her chemicals and helped her during her stay there to analyze ilmenite.

Most of her childhood she spent with her sisters at Geldeston in Norfolk, from where she went by day to the Sir John Leman School, Beccles, from 1921-28. One other girl, Norah Pusey, and Dorothy Crowfoot were allowed to join the boys doing chemistry at school, with Miss Deeley as their teacher; by the end of her school career, she had decided to study chemistry and possibly biochemistry at university.

Dorothy_Crowfoot_HodgkinShe went to Oxford and Somerville College from 1928-32 and became devoted to Margery Fry, then Principal of the College. For a brief time during her first year, she combined archaeology and chemistry, analysing glass tesserae from Jerash with E.G.J. Hartley. She attended the special course in crystallography and decided, following strong advice from F.M. Brewer, who was then her tutor, to do research in X-ray crystallography. This she began for part II Chemistry, working with H.M. Powell, as his first research student on thallium dialkyl halides, after a brief summer visit to Professor Victor Goldschmidt’s laboratory in Heidelberg.

Her going to Cambridge from Oxford to work with J.D. Bernal followed from a chance meeting in a train between Dr. A.F. Joseph and Professor Lowry.

Dorothy Crowfoot was very pleased with the idea; she had heard Bernal lecture on metals in Oxford and became, as a result, for a time, unexpectedly interested in metals; the fact that in 1932 he was turning towards sterols, settled her course.

somerville wikiShe spent two happy years in Cambridge, making many friends and exploring with Bernal a variety of problems. She was financed by her aunt, Dorothy Hood, who had paid all her college bills, and by a £75 scholarship from Somerville.

In 1933, Somerville, gave her a research fellowship, to be held for one year at Cambridge and the second at Oxford. She returned to Somerville and Oxford in 1934 and she has remained there, except for brief intervals, ever since.

She worked at first in the Department of Mineralogy and Crystallography where H.L. Bowman was professor.

In 1944 the department was divided and Dr. Crowfoot continued in the subdepartment of Chemical Crystallography, with H.M. Powell as Reader under Professor C.N. Hinshelwood.

She attended Somerville College at Oxford in 1932 and received a Chemistry degree. While in college, Dorothy used x-ray crystallography to show atomic structure and discovered that crystals are made of atoms in repeating, regular patterns.

solidstate1In 1933, Dorothy began her real crystallography research. She determined the structural atom layout and certain molecules’ molecular shape.

She also recorded the first x-ray diffraction pattern of a globular protein with Dr. J. D. Bernal.

This determined that a protein molecule’s arrangement is perfectly definite and that mother liquid is needed to surround protein crystals in order to study them.

Also with her research, she showed crystal packing molecules and their scheme of hydrogen bonds.

This was a great chemical breakthrough because they were the first analyses made from 3-D calculations.

In 1934, Dorothy returned to Oxford University and took x-ray photographs of insulin by herself, changing modern biology.

dorothy00Then, in 1937, she graduated from Cambridge University with a doctorate and married Dr. Thomas Hodgkin, a son of one historian and grandson of two others, whose main field of interest has been the history and politics of Africa and the Arab world, and who is at present Director of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, where part of her own working life is also spent.

They have three children and three grandchildren.

Their elder son is a mathematician, now teaching for a year at the University of Algiers, before taking up a permanent post at the new University of Warwick. Their daughter (like many of her ancestors) is an historian-teaching at girls’ secondary school in Zambia. Their younger son has spent a pre-University year in India before going to Newcastle to study Botany, and eventually Agriculture. So at the present moment they are a somewhat dispersed family.

Between 1942 and 1949, Dorothy worked to identify penicillin’s structure, which she established in 1945 with x-ray crystallography, and then made further clarifications.

In 1947, she became a member of Britain’s scientific organization, the Royal Society.

From 1948 to 1956, Dorothy served as a tutor at Cambridge University and Oxford University.

In 1955, she took the first x-ray diffraction pictures of Vitamin B-12.

In 1956 and 1958, she received the Royal Medal and became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, respectively.

Most of her working life, she spent as Official Fellow and Tutor in Natural Science at Somerville, responsible mainly for teaching chemistry for the women’s colleges.

When she returned to Oxford in 1934, she started to collect money for X-ray apparatus with the help of Sir Robert Robinson. Later she received much research assistance from the Rockefeller and Nuffield Foundations.

She continued the research that was begun at Cambridge with Bernal on the sterols and on other biologically interesting molecules, including insulin, at first with one or two research students only.

  • They were housed until 1958 in scattered rooms in the University museum.
  • Their researches on penicillin began in 1942 during the war, and on vitamin B12 in 1948.

Her research group grew slowly and has always been a somewhat casual organization of students and visitors from various universities, working principally on the X-ray analysis of natural products.

She became a University lecturer and demonstrator in 1946, University Reader in X-ray Crystallography in 1956 and Wolfson Research Professor of the Royal Society in 1960.

Dorothy Hodgkin took part in the meetings in 1946 which led to the foundation of the International Union of Crystallography and she has visited for scientific purposes many countries, including China, the USA and the USSR. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1947, a foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences in 1956, and of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Boston) in 1958.

In 1961, Dorothy determined the structure of the naturally-occurring Vitamin B-12, and since Vitamin B-12 helps build red blood cells, it became a treatment for anemia.

From 1960 to 1977, Dorothy was at Oxford University as the Royal Society Wolfson Research Professor.

hodgkinIn 1964, she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her structure of Vitamin B-12. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin “for her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances”.

In 1965, she became a member of the Order of Merit, endowed by Queen Elizabeth II.

Then, finally, in 1969, she completed insulin’s structure and it became helpful in treating diabetes.

In 1970, Dorothy was Britol University’s Chancellor and from 1972 to 1978, she was President of the International Union of Crystallography.

She received the Copley Medal (1976), retired in 1977, and received the Longstaff Medal, Lamonosov Gold Medal, and Lenin Peace Prize in 1978, 1982, and 1987, respectively.

Dorothy died from a stroke in Ilmington, England, on July 29, 1994.

She had done much to contribute to the field of chemistry, but she had also adopted over 75 children in need of homes from many different countries around the world.

For her work on the structures of important biochemical substances, Hodgkin was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1964. Her other honors are numerous, with the most notable being the Order of Merit, making her only the second woman ever to receive the award; the first was Florence Nightingale.

Hodgkin was instrumental in the founding of the International Union of Crystallography and, later in her life, she became president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, an organisation dedicated to bringing together influential scholars to seek solutions to enable world peace.

Dorothy Hodgkin was a remarkable scientist who managed to combine a tireless quest for knowledge with her responsibilities as a wife and mother; a significant achievement in itself given the attitude often encountered in the male dominated scientific arena.





A Celebration of Women

is excited to acknowledge the life and work of this pioneer in the women’s movement, as a power of example in female contributions to our world’s field of chemistry, and world peace.




Brava Dorothy!



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