1899

Dorothy Maud Wrinch (12 September 1894 – 11 February 1976) was a mathematician and biochemical theorist best known for her attempt to deduce protein structure using mathematical principles. She entered Surbiton High School in 1899, at the age of four and a third.

Surbiton High School had been founded 15 years previously, with Miss Alice Maud Procter as the current headmistress.

Remembered today for her much publicized feud with Linus Pauling over the shape of proteins, known as “the cyclol controversy,” Dorothy Wrinch made essential contributions to the fields of Darwinism, probability and statistics, quantum mechanics, x-ray diffraction, and computer science. She was also the first women to receive a doctor of science degree from Oxford University, her understanding of the science of crystals and the ever-changing notion of symmetry has been fundamental to science.

Majorie Senechal, author of Wrinch’s biography, explained that ‘Miss Proctor’s final report on Dorothy was not very encouraging: ‘Well, all I have to say, my dear little Dorothy, is that you will come to a bad end.’ Dorothy was very upset about this – as she explained ‘Proc’s venom and hostility was crucial for me, in that she could withdraw her support, through which alone I could get to Cambridge…. And I wanted to get to Cambridge.’’

Girton College, entering class, 1913. Dorothy Wrinch is second from left in the first full row. By permission of the Mistress and Fellows, Girton College, Cambridge.

Girton College, entering class, 1913. Dorothy Wrinch is second from left in the first full row. By permission of the Mistress and Fellows, Girton College, Cambridge.

But get to Cambridge she did. In autumn 1913, Dorothy Wrinch went up to Girton College, Cambridge. She presented certificates in History, English, Mechanics, French, a paper on Latin, and advanced Mathematics. Senechal explains that ‘‘Proc’ came through for her after all. The Canon of St Marks in Surbiton also vouched for the Wrinch family’s respectability. Eliza Burney, the Archdeacon’s daughter and Miss Procter’s ‘right hand’, was more cautious: “I think Dorothy a little too much inclined to sentimentalism, and naturally sensitive… but she’s a dear girl and thoroughly conscientious – I feel nearly sure that her influence with her companions was to the good.” ‘

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