Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Every year, 22,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and nearly 70% of these women, including Rosalind Franklin who you'll meet below, die within five years of their diagnoses.
The Lowcountry Women with Wings (LWWW) program was established by Terry Scharstein, an ovarian cancer patient, in partnership with the Center for Women. LWWW provides education and support services to women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, their caregivers, and families.
July 25, 1920—April 16, 1958
Biophysicist and a Pioneer Molecular Biologist
Rosalind Franklin was not only a pioneer for women in modern science, but she is also responsible for the research done that discovered the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA).
Franklin attended one of the only girls’ schools in London that offered physics and chemistry. By 15, she knew she wanted to become a scientist. Franklin’s father disproved of university education for women, and wished for Franklin to pursue social work, therefore refusing to pay for her education if it meant her pursuing the sciences. With the support of her aunt and mother, she attended Newnham College and graduated in 1941. By 1945, at the age of 26, she earned her doctorate in physical chemistry from Cambridge University.
Franklin became a research associate in physicist John Randall’s laboratory at King’s College, and was given the responsibility of a DNA project by Randall that she would lead. Many male colleagues mistook her position as just a technical assistant, and dismissed her contributions, mainly on the fact that she was a woman. Between 1951 and 1953, Franklin came very close to discovering the DNA structure, but the scientists Crick and Watson beat her to publication, and therefore are credited by most for the discovery of the DNA molecule structure.
Many say that Franklin deserved more credit for her contributions, and that her being a woman in a male-dominated field and working in a hostile environment towards women, kept her from achieving the praise she was and is due for.
In the summer of 1956, she became ill with ovarian cancer. She continued her work through three operations and experimental chemotherapy, and passed at the age of 37 from the cancer.