At the age of eleven, Dorothy began attending Sir John Leman Grammar School in Beccles, Suffolk. From the beginning, young Dorothy’s enthusiasm was for the sciences and chemistry in particular. She was encouraged in this by her mother who, among other motivations gave her a book by Nobel winner William Henry Bragg which spoke of the use of X-ray crystallography to “see” inside atoms and molecules. Dorothy was inspired. However, when it came to university, Dorothy found that her state school education was insufficient, without Latin or the necessary scientific grounding. Nevertheless she was determined to study at Oxford and had private classes to fill in the gaps before successfully taking the entrance exam. In 1928, she commenced her chemistry studies at Somerville College, one of the first women’s colleges in Oxford.
Following on from Oxford, Dorothy studied for her PhD at Cambridge University, carrying out research under the tutelage of controversial scientist, John Desmond Bernal, the then First Lecturer in Principal Crystallography at Cambridge. Much of Bernal’s ‘controversial’ reputation stemmed from his membership of the Communist Party (hardly unknown among academics at the time) and his general lack of patience with and disdain for people he saw as intellectual inferiors. Bernal and Dorothy worked closely together on new applications of X-ray crystallography (a technique then still in relative infancy) to determine the structure of organic molecules. Dorothy came to refer to Bernal by his Cambridge nickname of “Sage” and they became close friends and occasional lovers.