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Coping with children and research


How I met my husband, Thomas Hodgkin
Dorothy Hodgkin Scientist
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[Q] So tell us about Margery Fry.

Margery Fry was principal of Somerville College when I was an undergraduate, and so I got to know her well then. But by the end of the 1930s, she had retired from Somerville and was working mostly at Problems of Prisoners in her home in London. She threw out an invitation to me, as she did to rather many of her past Somervillians, to stay in London if ever I wanted time there with her. And so, when I got an offer from WH Bragg to photograph insulin crystals on the big x-ray tube with the Royal Institution, I made a little plan to go up and photograph them for about a fortnight with the help of people in the Royal Institution at that time, and I stayed with Margery.

Of course, not only myself was staying with Margery but two other people. One was Pamela Nicholson, who was the daughter of Dorothy Wrinch, and this was because her mother had gone to conferences in Austria and school had just finished and Margery was looking after her for the vacation. And so, I could help in with that operation.

And then the other one was Thomas Hodgkin who had had a job in Palestine in the British administration there which he liked very much. But then there came the trouble with the Jewish immigration, the Arab uprising, and he started visiting prisons in Jerusalem where, of course, there were both Jewish and Arab prisoners, and generally getting very much against what the government was doing, which was the usual thing of burning down houses of people involved in rioting and so on. So he resigned from his job and was thrown out of the country and... into Syria and went on an exciting journey across Lebanon to Beirut and there stayed with the - in great comfort - with the British consul there who was one of his father’s own pupils.

[Q] This would have been about 1920?

This was in 1936.

[Q] 1936.

And so I found him in 1937 when he moved from Lebanon to Margery in London and his family all around were concerned with getting him another job. At the time that I was with him at Margery’s, he was trying to be a school master and doing practice teaching at Marylebone Grammar School, which he hated because he had no... he was no good at disciplining the children and they just ran rings around him all the time. So... but later on, in the same year, he was... AD Lindsay, Master of Balliol where he had been at Oxford, suggested that he should try adult education and this he found much more to his liking. He got a job with the Friend’s Social Service council in West Cumberland lecturing to unemployed miners, and I just got to know him while we were both staying with Margery.  And then I went up to see him in West Cumberland and he came down to Oxford to lecture at summer schools, and so we very rapidly decided we liked... we would marry while... and we spent that summer visiting his parents and my parents and being properly introduced and planned to have the wedding in December directly after the scholarship exams had finished, which was the time most Oxford dons tended to choose, or many did. His father and mother had been married in December, I don’t know which year, so we were married on December 16, 1937.


British pioneer of X-ray crystallography, Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994), is best known for her ground-breaking discovery of the structures of penicillin, insulin and vitamin B12. At age 18, she started studying chemistry at Somerville College, Oxford, then one of the University of Oxford colleges for women only. She also studied at the University of Cambridge under John Desmond Bernal, where she became aware of the potential of X-ray crystallography to determine the structure of proteins. Together with Sydney Brenner, Jack Dunitz, Leslie Orgel, and Beryl Oughton, she was one of the first people in April 1953 to see the model of the structure of DNA, constructed by Francis Crick and James Watson. She was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and is also known for her peace work with organisations such as Science for Peace and the Medical Aid Committee for Vietnam. All recorded material copyright of The Biochemical Society.

Listeners: Guy Dodson

Guy Dodson studied chemistry and physical science at the University of New Zealand, followed by a PhD on the crystallographic study of an alkaloid. In 1961, he came to Oxford to work on the crystal structure of insulin. In the mid 1970s Guy and his wife moved to York University to establish a laboratory. In addition to insulin studies the laboratory has investigated many complex molecules of medical significance, including haemoglobin, myoglobin, HIV related proteins, proteases and proteins involved in managing nucleic acids in cells. In 1993, he went to the NIMR in London to establish a crystallographic group in an environment that spanned molecular, physiological and disease-related disciplines. Here his research began on some cell signalling proteins. His interests on medically relevant proteins included prions, malarial and TB proteins, and some clinically relevant thrombin inhibitors. Guy Dodson retired in 2004 but is still finding much to do in York and the NIMR.

Tags: Somerville College, Royal Institution, Jerusalem, Beirut, Thomas Hodgkin, Margery Fry

Duration: 5 minutes, 53 seconds

Date story recorded: 1990

Date story went live: 02 June 2008