Early in life, at the unusually young age of 24, Dorothy was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disorder that primarily causes severe inflammation of the joints. It began as pain in the hands and progressed consitently until later in life she had to spend much of her time in a wheelchair. At no point did the disease lessen her dedication to her scientific work.
Just a few years after the initial diagnosis, Dorothy married Thomas Hodgkin, a former colonial civil servant who went on to become a renowned teacher of African history, lecturing at Oxford and publishing a number of books on the subject. Due to work commitments – for example, Thomas’ role took him to Ghana in the 60s – the couple often lived apart.
Politically, Dorothy Hodgkin could be labelled as left-leaning. Her husband, Thomas was a one-time Communist Party member, and her close academic mentor and friend, John Desmond Bernal was also a Party member and an initial supporter of Soviet regimes. It was due to these associations and her membership of the Science for Peace group (which also included a number of communists in its roster) that Dorothy was banned from entering the US in 1953 and was only later allowed to visit by special permission of the Attorney General. Such political and social sensibilities also led to her involvement in a number of international peace initiatives, including the presidency of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs between 1976 and 1988 (Pugwash is a group that brings together academics and public figures to address issues of global conflict and security).
It would seem that the only misstep that Dorothy made was in agreeing to write the foreword to a scientific paper by Elena Ceausescu, Deputy Prime Minister of Romania and wife of the country’s communist dictator. Elena held a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Bucharest and had published a number of original research papers. Dorothy Hodgkin wrote the foreword to a 1983 English translation of a paper titled, ‘Stereospecific Polymerization of Isoprene’. However, after the fall of communism (and of the Ceausescu government) it was revealed that Elena had never attended the university, never earned her doctorate and had had a team of scientists to ghostwrite her papers. The Hodgkin-endorsed paper was part of an ongoing campaign to convince the international community of Ceausescu’s scientific credentials and Dorothy was unwittingly drawn into the hoax.
Dorothy and Thomas Hodgkin had three children: Luke (1938), Elizabeth (1941) and Toby (1946). Dorothy died on July 29th, 1994 following a stroke at her Warwickshire home.
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