When I saw today’s Google Doodle, which looks like this:
I knew instantly that it had something to do with Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin (1910-1994), who won the Nobel Prize in 1964. In fact, she would have been 104 today had she lived. And you should know that this Doodle was about her, too, because I’ve posted about Hodgkin before, showing the model of penicillin that she made from X-ray crystallography, a field she helped found. Here’s that model, which I showed in my previous post, and which appears in the Doodle:
It was for determining this structure, and that of vitamin B12, that Hodgkin got The Big Prize. You can read more about her at the link above. She remains the only British woman to ever get a Nobel Prize in science.
The attitude toward women scientists of her era, and her persistence in ignoring it, is expressed by a nice article in this January’s Guardian:
When, in 1964, she was awarded the Nobel Prize, did the press regard her in the same light as they would a man in the same position? Absolutely not. The Daily Telegraph announced “British woman wins Nobel Prize – £18,750 prize to mother of three”. The Daily Mail was even briefer in its headline “Oxford housewife wins Nobel”. The Observer in its write-up commented “affable-looking housewife Mrs Hodgkin” had won the prize “for a thoroughly unhousewifely skill: the structure of crystals of great chemical interest”.
. . . Hodgkin was a woman not prepared to let her gender get in the way of her work. When married, but still working under her maiden name of Crowfoot, she presented a key paper at a major meeting at the Royal Society in 1938 when eight months pregnant. Another long-term collaborator, Nobel Prize winner Max Perutz, referred to her appearance at this meeting in his speech at her memorial service: “Dorothy lectured in that state as if it were the most natural thing in the world, without any pretence of trying to be unconventional, which it certainly was at the time.”
The days have passed, I hope, when a woman who wins a Nobel Prize is described as a “housewife” or a “mother.” But there are still too few women in science, and, as several recent studies have shown, still unconscious gender bias against them by scientists of both sexes. Yet I fear we’re still in the days when headlines might say “British woman wins Nobel Prize” when they wouldn’t say “British man wins Nobel Prize.” The day will come, in our children’s lifetime, when all scientists will be judged not by the content of their chromosomes, but by the character of their science.