Format read: ebook
Rep: Jewish, women in STEM, autism coding
**This review contains minor spoilers**
The early part of the 1900s was not an easy time for women in STEM, even if they were exceptionally brilliant.
Rosalind Franklin had every advantage growing up–she went to a well respected grade school, where she left a year early out of sheer boredom to take up studying science at Cambridge. She came from an upper-middle class family known for it’s progressive values and charity work, which helped her not only financially, but also assisted in making the connections she would use later in her life.
A dedicated researcher, she was utterly meticulous in her study of crystals, gathering every possible piece of evidence before forming her conclusions, sometimes to the frustration of her research partners. Rigid in her habits and methodology, Roslind was not the type of person to be swayed by the opinions of other, in the lab or out of it, and it led to her making many enemies.
Despite this, however, she had many friends, and that is what makes the ultimate scientific betrayal of her career the worst: it came from two people she considered not only colleagues, but friends.
James Watson and Francis Crick are known for discovering the double helix structure of DNA. But what few people know–even after Watson’s tell-all book published in the 1960s–is that they came to their conclusions after accessing Franklin’s work through a back-door method and without her knowledge or consent.
I cheered for Rosalind through most of this book, even though I knew it would have a bad ending (spoiler: she never found out her research had been stolen, and died from cancer a few years later. This is possibly a good thing, since she never saw the way her friend Watson portrayed her in his book).
While I don’t agree with her on everything, Franklin led a fascinating life, and one that is worthy of both respect and remembrance. Like so many historical women, her contributions have been largely forgotten, except in a few small circles related to her field (Cambridge later dedicated a building in her name).
She never sought fame nor fortune, nor really to even change the world. She had her interests and wanted to pursue them, to ensure that her research was protected, and that she received credit for the work she’d done. She had little tollerance for 1920s-1950s England, where women were paid less, and limited to only 10% of college students, where they could complete the exams and class work but where not allowed to receive degrees.
Thankfully, this didn’t stop Rosalind Franklin or hundreds of women like her from studying, working, and changing the world–even if it was in their own quiet ways.