A Scholar in the Making

Born less than two years after World War I ended, Rosalind Franklin grew up during a time of major change. The airplane and automobile were relatively new inventions, the majority of households in Europe and North America didn’t have electricity, and travel by horse was still fairly common.

Meet the Franklins

Rosalind Elsie Franklin was born in London on July 25, 1920, the first daughter and second child of Ellis and Muriel Franklin. The couple would eventually have five children, all of whom would stay connected throughout their lives through correspondence and shared interests.

The Franklins and their extended Anglo-Jewish family were known throughout Great Britain and beyond for leadership in the political, business and academic arenas, as well as international humanitarian work.

Rosalind’s parents helped with the Kindertransport initiative, which sought to resettle Jewish children from Hitler’s Germany into homes throughout the British Isles in the years just before WWII. In fact, the family welcomed two young refugees into their home.

A Precocious Child

From the time she entered a private day school at age 6, Rosalind was recognized by her adult relatives and teachers as exceptionally bright. She showed an early aptitude for math and science that defined her academic and professional career.

She was a gifted, conscientious student with a keen sense of justice and logic. She thrived on intellectual debate and frequently challenged others on their opinions and positions, a characteristic that helped her clarify her own understanding of highly complex subjects.

Rosalind also developed an interest in foreign languages — she studied German, French, Latin and Hebrew — and athletics. She excelled at school sports, like cricket, and she became an experienced trekker who loved to take long hikes in the mountains.

Star Student

Rosalind attended the St. Paul’s Girls’ School in West London from 1932 until her graduation in 1938. While there, she continued to excel in nearly every subject. In fact, there was only one area in which she performed lower than average. According to the school’s music director, her singing was, at best, “almost in tune.”

No matter. According to her mother, she had decided to pursue a career in science by the age of 16. Muriel Franklin described that decisiveness as characteristic of Rosalind, who “all her life knew exactly where she was going.”

Rosalind’s early education in private preparatory and boarding schools prepared her for enrollment in 1938 at Newnham College, one of two schools for women at prestigious Cambridge University.