The Champions Who Walked Among Us – Article 15 – The Dark Lady, The Unsung Heroine
- What would you do if your recognition and honor were stolen?
- How would you react when your research was appropriated for use without your knowledge and permission?
- What would you say to those who had violated one of the fundamental laws of the Hippocratic Oath of Science –– Thou shall not steal?
1868, Benjamin Disraeli became Prime Minister. The appointment lasted only a few months. General elections in the United Kingdom held that same year favored William Gladstone and his Liberal Party.
1874, Disraeli returned to Parliament as Prime Minister and became the father of social reform. But after being defeated by Gladstone and his Liberals in 1880, Disraeli went into retirement and died in 1881.
1914, The First World War began.
1917, The Balfour Declaration was enacted.
1918, The First World War ends.
The month: July,
The date: the twenty-fifth,
The day: Sunday
In the middle of a European society filled with chaos and struggle, where mistrust and discrimination was widely practiced against a small group of people, a young baby was born into an affluent family. As her eyes opened to view the lights of the world, racism, anti-Semitism and suffrage were the dominating political and economical topics that occupied the minds of the people in the country of her birth. Fear, envy, and jealousy surrounded her. Suspicions throttled opportunities for this small ethnic group and the baby’s facial features pointed out with clarity her ethnicity. The fact that she was born English could not eradicate the fact–– she was Jewish.
Born as a member of the female species, this young baby girl was unaware of the events that would hurl her into a clandestine intrigue against her and would test her ability to keep moving forward. At the time of her birth, she could not predict that her Intellectual Property would be robbed nor would she have believed that she would become the victim of one of the most hideous crimes there is on this earth––a crime that has not been properly restituted up to this day–Espionage of knowledge.
The child was the second in the lineage from a family comprise of three boys and two girls. Her parents belonged to the Anglo-Jewry and practiced its traditions, as well as honored the traditions of the English Society, which was their birthplace. Psychiatrist and Analyst Alfred Adler stated in his theory on birth order among children that the second child is the fighter, the challenger, the competitor sandwiched between the oldest and the middle child. This young woman certainly fitted this description.
According to my favorite biographer of her life, Brenda Maddox, the young child knew her life was destined at the age of twelve. It was her dream to become a scientist, and The Dark Lady, The Unsung Heroine arose.
- What would you do if you came into the world with your mission already defined and imbedded within your heart?
Throughout her life, the young woman thrived in a learning atmosphere. She mastered mathematics, geometry, the sciences and learned languages quickly. Raised in an environment of love and respect, the idea that she was anything less than equal to others never came to her mind. The Dark Lady, our Unsung Heroine was not a feminist, yet, would suffer unjust snubs, ridicule, and recriminations–––she was Jewish.
By the time the Unsung Heroine had reached fifteen, she was in love with science. There was not a scientific topic that did not tease her analytical mind. Motivated, dedicated to her family, and with the stamina to be persistent, she was indeed unusual.
She attended Newnham, one of the two female colleges at Cambridge University, an honor that made her family extremely proud and brought her recognition as the top student upon entry with the best evaluation in Chemistry.
In 1941, The Dark Lady, the Unsung Heroine received her Bachelor’s Degree from Cambridge and also a scholarship to work on a research project concerning photochemistry. She worked under R. G. Norris but the Second World War had begun, and our Unsung Heroine weighed her options about how she could best contribute to helping her nation during the war. She decided to work on researching the microstructures and usage of coal for wartime purposes. The identification of the microstructures and their reactions to each other was successful, and later led to her receiving her Ph.D. from Cambridge University and the acknowledgement and publication for five scientific papers.
However, it was after this period that she began her most fruitful work, a work that would lead three men to receive the the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1962 for a discovery of the structures of Deoxyribonucleic Acid, known by its acronym of DNA.
The Dark Lady had spent time in France where she had experienced international renown among her colleagues, and she had returned home to England on a three-year research grant to work in the lab from John T. Randall’s Bio Physics Unit at King’s College in London. He asked her to work on his DNA research project. With her experience in x-ray diffraction, where she was considered an expert before her time, she discovered there were two forms of Deoxyribonucleic Acid, a wet and a dry form that displayed totally different pictures. The Dark lady conducted various tests, and in 1953 she had photo picture proof that both structures were helices.
Unfortunately, Maurice Wilkins sent her work to scientists, Francis Crick and James D. Watson without her knowledge. Because he had not been assigned to work with her on the project, a rivalry began that brought our Unsung Heroine much pain. Wilkins made her life miserable during her time at King’s College. Based on her research and her pictures, Crick and Watson were able to break the mystery of the DNA structure. However, they did not mention they had based their work on the photo pictures from The Dark Lady, our Unsung Heroine.
- What would have been your reaction to the theft of your intellectual property?
- How would you have reacted to failed acknowledgement of your critical research that may have rewarded you with the Nobel Prize?
The year 1954, damage relationships were irreparable, and The Dark Lady resettled herself and transferred her fellowship to J.D. Bernal’s Crystallography Laboratory at Birkbeck College. She refused to look backward; instead she looked ahead and began working with the structures of plant viruses, which drew her international attention. During this time, she made two trips to the North American Continent.
Can’t you see her people?
The Dark Lady,
The Unsung Heroine of Science,
Giving her best, putting her best foot forward, no matter the circumstances and succeeding, even though she had been intellectually robbed.
The year was 1958,
The date April 16,
And one of the most prolific women of the twentieth century,
The Dark Lady,
The Unsung Heroine,
Dr. Rosalind Elsie Franklin,
Was about to take her wings and cross over into eternity.
In 1956, this thirty-five year old woman had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Even though, she had undergone two surgeries and other treatments that brought about remission, the cancer continued to reappear. Nevertheless, The Dark Lady, The Unsung Heroine of DNA continued to gather funds for her team, until she could no longer work. She knew time was slipping away quickly, but she wanted to leave her team well-funded.
On that particular day, in 1958, the 16th of April, it was windy in London. The winds were strong throughout the United Kingdom. The weather forecast predicted that the latter part of the month of April would bring extreme warm temperatures. However, The Dark Lady, The Unsung Heroine of DNA was ready to rest and her eyes looked towards going home.
Can’t you see her people?
Dr. Rosalind Elsie Franklin, The Dark Lady,
The Unsung Heroine of the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine,
The woman in the background who laid the groundwork for the Double Helix,
As she lay there reminiscing over her life, taking an account of the path she had deliberately chosen to walk.
I can see her in my mind, looking back at thirty-seven years of a life well spent in public service, and in helping others by fulfilling her purpose in life. I see her smiling as she examined her accomplishments:
- Worked successfully on a research project in Photochemistry and achieved Bachelor’s Degree.
- Identified the microstructures in coal and their usage for the war industry in the Second World War. Doctor’s degree followed with the publication of five scientific papers.
- Discovered the wet and dry helical structures of Deoxyribonucleic Acid, which led to the discovery of the Double Helix.
- Instrumental in the research of plant viruses and the tobacco mosaic virus
- Published 19 articles on coals and carbon, five articles on DNA and 21 on Viruses
- Was the top expert researcher in X-Ray Diffraction
- Established a global network of contacts for my team within the research world.
- Left more than enough financial funding to assist them.
See her through the eyes of your heart, people,
Look at this woman,
The Dark Lady,
The Unsung Heroine of Deoxyribonucleic Acid,
As she smiled once more before she let out a sigh, and Dr. Rosalind Elsie Franklin, the lady who laid down the groundwork for the Double Helix put on her wings, and her spirit stood up and Walked On.
She walked on, people, she walked On! Dr. Rosalind Elsie Franklin Walked On!
Walk On all you weary people who have been misunderstood, abused, or misused.
Stand tall and keep walking, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Hold your head up high,
Walk On, I say, Walk On.
*Some facts after Dr. Rosalind Elsie Franklin’s departure:
In 1962 Francis Crick, James D. Watson and Maurice Wilkins received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for the Double Helix. None of the three men mentioned that his work was based on the pictures they had illegally taken from the work of Dr. Rosalind Elsie Franklin.
1968 Watson published his memoirs in which he portrayed Dr. Rosalind Elsie Franklin in a derogatory manner.
1975 Franklin’s friend, Anne Sayre wrote a rebuttal, which began to uncover the truth about the discovery of the Double Helix. However, a posthumous Nobel Prize award for Dr. Rosalind Elsie Franklin regarding her critical role that led to this discovery has not yet been rectified.
 Maddox, Brenda, Rosalind Franklin, The Dark Lady of DNA, HarperCollins e-books, 2002 in the United Kingdom by HarperCollins Publishers.
(8) http://www.kelliecoffey.com/index.asp, permission requested.