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issue Winter 2023

Connecting with a ‘Hidden Genius’

Ms. Benedict, at left, with Dr. Eliot
Photo by Michael R. Schmidt

Author Marie Benedict welcomes Lake Forest readers into Rosalind Franklin’s world.

The obstacles placed in the path of Dr. Rosalind Franklin during her years working in male-dominated research settings were both hidden and in plain sight — and author Marie Benedict can point to one that was impossible to ignore.

“They knew she didn’t like to be called ‘Rosie,’” she said of Dr. Franklin’s colleagues at King’s College London, “so one day, they festooned her lab with all sorts of frilly doilies and put up a sign that said ‘Rosie’s Lab.’ There were lots and lots of things like that — overt, really unpleasant.”

This episode was shared during the second of two events in mid-October hosted by the Lake Forest Library to spotlight Ms. Benedict’s novel “Her Hidden Genius,” which delves into the famed researcher’s life both in and out of the laboratory. The “Lake Forest Reads” series, co-sponsored by RFU, included an Oct. 13 conversation at the Gorton Community Center between Ms. Benedict and Davis Schneiderman, PhD, who serves as Krebs Provost and dean of faculty at Lake Forest College, and an evening reception on Oct. 14 at the library.

“If anything, I feel like the story of Rosalind Franklin is a cautionary tale of what happens if you don’t give women a full seat at the table.”

On the morning of Oct. 14, RFU Professor of Neuroscience Lise Eliot, PhD, joined Ms. Benedict before a gathering of around 40 community members in the library’s lower level to discuss the enduring relevance of Dr. Franklin’s workplace experiences.

“It’s amazing how the (problems) that Rosalind encountered are still happening today,” Dr. Eliot said. “Fortunately, Rosalind Franklin University is the very rare beacon for women in science. The number of women we have on our faculty and our administration — it’s a whole different ballgame.”

“If anything, I feel like the story of Rosalind Franklin is a cautionary tale of what happens if you don’t give women a full seat at the table,” Ms. Benedict said. “What more might she have been capable of if she had been given proper support, proper mentoring, proper attribution in her articles? If you look at the arc of her life, which unfortunately was so short, how much more could she have done?”

Toward the end of the hour-long discussion, a member of the audience asked how the famously process-driven researcher might have reacted to a novel delving into the life beyond her work.

“She was a very private person, so she probably wouldn’t have liked it,” Ms. Benedict said. “But again, she was a scientist, and if she thought it would bring more smart women scientists forward, (if) it can move the needle to advance science, I think she might have gone for it.”

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