Rosalind Elsie Franklin's family, born on 25 July 1920 in London, is one of the most influential families in British Jewish society. Her father, Ellis Franklin, was a partner in Keysers Bank. Her mother is Muriel Frances Waley. Rosalind is the eldest daughter and second child in a family of five children. At the age of six, she stood out for her intelligence, especially in arithmetic. When her sister Jenifer was born, Rosalind was sent to a boarding school against her will. The nine-year-old is very ambitious and strives to be the best in class.
Rebellious, stubborn and teasing, Rosalind decides to study natural sciences. She works hard for entrance tests and wins a scholarship to Cambridge University. Not so proud of getting the scholarship, the studious Rosalind is more pleased with the fact that she was the best. After obtaining a doctorate in physical chemistry in 1945, she worked in France from 1947 to 1950 at the Laboratoire Central des Services Chimiques de l'Etat, under the direction of Jacques Mering, where she learned the techniques of X-ray diffractometry.
Professionally, Rosalind Franklin was brilliant and quickly gained a reputation through her numerous publications. However, in terms of relationships, she was sometimes frowned upon by her peers: self-confident, irritable and very direct, she did not meet with unanimous approval. Her love life suffers and she remains single all her life.
A Francophile, she loved her life in Paris. And when King's College in London offers her a job in research in the field of physical biology, Rosalind accepts with great hesitation. The radiologist and specialist in the microstructure of coals, who had not yet worked in this field, was afraid to return to England and confessed in a letter to her brother: "ich kann nicht glauben, dass ich hier (Paris) [...] weggehe, aber ich bin mir sicher, es war der grösste Fehler meines Lebens.
The research team, consisting of the biophysicist Maurice Wilkins, the researchers Francis Crick and James B. Watson and Rosalind Franklin, concentrated on analysing the structure of DNA. But she and her male colleagues did not get on well and her colleagues nicknamed her the 'Dark Lady' because they feared her mood swings. Rosalind Franklin's famous photograph No. 51 of DNA finally gave Watson the certainty that DNA is helical in shape. Unaware of this discovery, the scientist left Kings' College to join Birkbeck College in 1953. The scientists published their discovery, deliberately leaving Rosalind Franklin's important contribution to the research in the shade.
She died prematurely in 1958 of ovarian cancer, probably due to overexposure to radiation.
In 1962, when the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine was awarded to Wilkins, Watson and Crick, Rosalind Franklin's name was not mentioned. Ten years after the scientist's death, James Watson, in his book The Double Helix, minimised Rosalind Franklin's role, for which he was reproached. Since the publication of Watson's book in 1968, she has become a feminist icon, "the woman whose genius was sacrificed in the name of the greater glory of men."
● Florence Montreynaud: Le XXe siècle des femmes, Editions Nathan, Paris 1995, pages 408-409.
● Brenda Maddox: Rosalind Franklin. Die Entdeckung der DNA oder der Kampf einer Frau um wissenschaftliche Anerkennung, Campus Verlag, 2002.