Trustee Franklin on the legacy of Rosalind Franklin, PhD
It is a great pleasure to be with you today and I would like to thank Dr. Eliot, Dr. Rheault and Dr. Welch as well as the organizers of this wonderful day of learning and discovery for your kind invitation. It is always a tremendous honor and privilege to share some family history relative to my Aunt Rosalind Elsie Franklin. Today, I will try to draw a more intimate picture of My Aunt's life through a few of my favorite family stories that I hope will provide you with a better understanding of Rosalind's vibrant and often misrepresented personality.
When I came to America in 1980, I began my studies at NYU, where I took a wonderful class taught by 2 women professors. One was an English professor and the other a scientist and together they taught how literature evolved as scientific knowledge grew. At the bottom of the course's extensive reading list, I noticed the "Double Helix." At the end of a one my first sessions I sheepishly approached the science professor and asked if we would eventually read Crick and Watson's book, since I thought it had "something" to do with my Aunt.
She asked who my Aunt was, and when I said Rosalind Franklin, she became very excited and asked me my name. When I responded, Rosalind Franklin, she seemed incredibly surprised and overwhelmed. It was really her reaction that day that inspired me to talk with my parents and find out more about my namesake. From that day forward, my respect and admiration for her only grew. It was the values she stood for, as well as her enormous contributions to science, that I came to realize how privileged and honored I am to carry her name and the responsibility I bear to keep her legacy alive.
Rosalind died in 1958 and I was born in 1960, so I never knew my aunt. The stories I will share with you today are ones told to me by my parents who knew her well, as she lived in our home throughout her illness until her untimely death at the age of only 37. Rosalind enjoyed the energy and noise of my 2 brothers and 2 sisters, which were a welcome distraction, as her health declined. During Rosalind's lifetime, her family was not aware of the importance of her work and substantial contributions, primarily because they had no clue about what she was talking about, aside from her father who was more versed in science than the rest.
Educated at St. Paul's Girls School in London and Newnham College Cambridge, when she died, neither St. Paul's nor Newnham College thought her death worth reporting in their respective magazines. However, many years later, they have recognized her world changing scientific contributions and have dedicated buildings in her memory.
Rosalind's multi-faceted personality and strong values of hard work, authenticity, integrity, discipline and a tireless desire to make a difference in the world, were what drove her. These values, combined with her scientific knowledge as well as her British upbringing, were what made her the remarkable scientist and person she was. She chose to live a life full of meaning, purpose and fun.
Taking part and putting forth your best effort is what mattered to her and that is the message that I would like to convey here today. Fame and recognition were not what Rosalind pursued or would have wanted to be remembered for. She cared about equality and justice for everyone.
What drove her were the pursuit of excellence and the never-ending journey of inquiry for the betterment of mankind.
Through sharing with you a couple of my favorite family stories about the Franklin men and women who paved the way, I hope to help set the context for how Rosalind experienced the world, which aided in the formation of her character and values.
Formidable and powerful are recognizable traits of the Franklin women. These have been ascribed to Rosalind but they are also prevalent in the strong lineage of intelligent and capable women who preceded her.
Rosalind's grandmother, Caroline Franklin, after whom one of my sister's is named, was one of the first female students at Bedford College She lived with her husband Arthur Ellis on a large estate in Chartridge, Buckinghamshire. There they embraced their duty to ensure the well being of the Chartridge residents, and built a reading room and playing field for the local families.
In 2015, the village of Chartridge unveiled a Blue Plaque in memory of Caroline and Arthur, a wonderful honor and tribute. In England, a Blue Plaque is a permanent sign, linking a famous person to a location, as an historical marker. You can find them all over the country if you look for them. Rosalind has 2 Blue Plaques in her name, one where she lived and the other at King's College where she worked.
With the understanding that this is a day to celebrate women, the exploration of their achievements and challenges as leaders, albeit in the sciences, it seems fitting to share Rosalind's own family role models and influencers and their achievements.
Aunt Alice was one of a generation of politically active Franklin's. She received an OBE – Order of the British Empire in 1931, as part of the Queen's birthday honors, in appreciation for her work with the Society for the Overseas Settlement of British Women. When WW1 ended, the challenges facing young women changed. Now instead of a labor shortage, because men were returning from war, there was a labor surplus.
The gender imbalance resulting from the deaths of young men during the war, also meant that newly unemployed women could not find husbands. As secretary of the Overseas Settlement of British Women, Alice found considerable resistance from the British colonies and went on a speaking tour across Canada to promote the cause, to a public skeptical of immigration.
Alice was also a British feminist, secretary of the Jewish League for Woman Suffrage and a key figure in the Townswomen's Guild, who adopted the suffrage colors of red for courage, white for faith and green for hope, shaping it from its suffrage roots into an organization that was apolitical and inclusive, providing considerable space for feminist and lesbian women. Sadly, after her departure and that of her co leader Gertrude Horton, the last traces of feminism in the Townswomen Guilds were further diminished.
Our Aunt Helen Bentwich, known as Mamie, became forewoman at the Royal Arsenal, responsible for carrying out munitions manufacturing and research for the British Armed Forces, where she was forced to resign due to her support for the female workers and attempting to form a Trade Union. However she went on to become Chairman of the London County Council – essentially the body that governed London, a job that had tremendous influence. Mamie worked her way up from being a regional council member to become Chair of the Borough of London. Her husband Norman Bentwich, an attorney who subsequently became the Attorney General for Palestine, was responsible for writing the laws of the land, while Helen organized nursery schools, formed arts and crafts centers, and became honorary secretary of the Palestine Council of Jewish Women. They remain in my memory as a very warm and loving couple that showed great interest in us as children, as well as the world around them.
One of the more colorful members of the Franklin family was my Uncle Hugh Arthur Franklin.
Winston Churchill writes about Hugh in his History of the English Speaking People because he assaulted Churchill on a train with a dog whip, because Churchill was opposed giving women the vote!
Hugh was a committed member of the suffragette movement, often being imprisoned along with his fellow "suffragettes," and was a regular protester and outspoken voice in support of giving women the vote.
Eventually, he escaped prison under the Cat and Mouse Act – which involved releasing "prisoners" who were engaged in hunger strikes, for long enough to eat at a restaurant, be satiated and then quickly recaptured and remanded behind bars. It was on one of these escapades that Hugh had prearranged an escape, by dressing up in women's clothes and through the back door of a restaurant, escaped to Belgium. He was eventually repatriated after the invasion of Belgium by Germany.
When I told my father Roland, Rosalind's youngest brother, that I would be speaking to you today, he said how much he would have enjoyed the opportunity to share some of his favorite memories, but since he is now 90 years young and unable to be here in person, I thought I would like to read them to you in his own words.
"I was her brother 5 years her junior. Until I came out of the navy in 1947 - I hardly knew her. There was one incident I remember, while she was still at Cambridge and I was at my boarding school, Oundle. For all the normal reasons of a boy transitioning from being a prep school hero, to a public school victim, I ran away and hitched various lifts to Cambridge, where I arrived at her college unannounced.
She was charming and treated my arrival as the most normal thing in the world, broke all the college rules by putting me up for the night and summoning our parents to take me back to school the following day. It was all so normal and utterly non-judgmental. When I came out of the navy in 1947 I was in a sense, the only one around and hence, we were thrown together.
We played tennis, walked together at weekends and most importantly before I was married, I joined three of her adventure holidays, where we really got to know each other.
These holidays were significant. She planned them meticulously and I was happy to go along. Comfort was not a prime consideration, for the most part, we stayed in youth hostels making our own beds and cooking our own food. We walked about 15 miles a day, took photographs of great mountain peaks and waterfalls, but none of each other. In our family, having one's own picture taken was a form of vanity.
It came as a shock to me on my honeymoon with my wife, when I wanted to photograph a particularly beautiful part of a glacier – I found she kept on getting in the way.
Holidays with Rosalind were sheer joy. We did not talk about science. She was a Socialist - Her hobby was mushrooms and toadstools and she like old houses and churches.
Rosalind was always very careful and never took unnecessary risks. She also, never climbed without a guide. One year we went to Chamonix to ski, when we got there, Rosalind was overwhelmed by the beauty of the mountain that dominated the town and immediately found the head guide and asked him to take us up the mountain early in the morning, so that we could see the sun rise over the valley. The guide who knew of Rosalind's reputation, agreed and at 3.30 a.m, we found ourselves wearing skis with reversed skins on them which prevented slipping. We climbed for hours to a ledge from which we could enjoy the magnificent dawn creeping over the valley, and then we prepared to climb down. It was Impossible. We had to ski down. Neither of us were any good at skiing nor did it occur to the guide to ask whether we could ski. We finally made it down and the guide told us that never before had he been so relieved to bring clients down safely from a mountain than he was that morning.
Walking in deserted hills, you get to know your companion pretty well."
I share these stories to demonstrate our family's belief that Rosalind didn't feel being a woman held her back. However, she was limited by the lack of collegiality and a feeling of isolation, due to the fraught relationships she experienced with her colleagues and her exclusion from the common room, designated for men only. Her only articulated resentment was that of the terms of her agreement with regard to her work at King's. She only agreed to take the job with the understanding that she would not have a boss, a detail that was not shared with Maurice Wilkins and thus caused the mistrust and problems she experienced in their shared lab where he thought he was in charge. The representation of her prickly and hard demeanor, otherwise known as a strong personality, perhaps would have been unremarkable, had she been a man.
Everywhere else Rosalind got on well with everyone she worked with. Her friends and family enjoy retelling their stories about the woman, friend, sister and colleague they knew, to bring her kind, gentle, fun loving and adventurous spirit to life.
It is important to note that when Crick and Watson announced their discovery, she delighted in their success and the enormous contribution made to the human race. I believe that she would be proud to know that her legacy promoted her values of integrity and relentless dedication to hard work and academic rigor, not about a race to the finish line.
Values are the engines that drive behavior and ultimate personal integrity. I highlight Rosalind's family in order to demonstrate that these values don't come out of nowhere, but are based on how we are raised, those with whom we choose to surround ourselves, our personal decisions and conscious choices, many of which are modeled and passed on through the generations. We all have the chance to make an impact and choose a path of integrity, discipline and hard work, to achieve our personal and professional goals.
As I contemplate the recognition that Rosalind has garnered and the buildings and programs all over the world dedicated in her name, this University is the cherry on top!
Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, operates with her shared values – a spirit of inquiry, diligence and academic excellence. It's not about personal gain, but about principles, duty and being a part of something meaningful, contributing to improving the life of one individual, or the whole world, as was her remarkable contribution to the discovery of the secret of life.
I hope you will consider her legacy as an inspiration and opportunity for reflection on your personal values and choices and that the power within each one of us to make a difference, is infinite and possible.