Who Is She?

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin discovered the molecular structure of DNA (specifically the DNA double helix).

In 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick started to build a molecular model of DNA, most of their data was derived directly from research done by Franklin. Her data was critical to the completion of Watson and Crick’s research. Franklin never built a model, she did not want to embark on that until the structure of DNA was known so as to eliminate any incorrect possibilities. Franklin died in 1958.

Rosalind Franklin (1920 - 1958)

Rosalind Franklin (1920 - 1958)

Franklin worked with Maurice Wilkins, who oversaw much of her research. Franklin changed universities, and once she left Watson and Crick received a letter from Wilkins advising them that Franklin was “finally leaving" and that they could put “all hands to the pump”.

For her discovery, three men, James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Franklin was never nominated and was not recognised for her contribution to the discovery of the structure of DNA until after she died. Nobel rules prohibit posthumous nominations or splitting of Prizes more than three ways.

Aaron Klug, Franklin’s colleague and beneficiary in her will, was the sole winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1982. The work that he was awarded for was exactly what Franklin had started, and she introduced this to Klug. It is widely considered in the scientific community that, were she alive, she would have been awarded the Nobel Prize.

Renée Richards

Renée Richards is a former professional tennis player. She became widely known after coming out as transgender in the 1970’s and fighting to compete in the women’s competition in the 1976 US Open. The USTA (United States Tennis Association) required all female competitors to “verify” their sex with a test of their chromosomes. Richards applied to play the 1976 US Open but refused to take the test, and was subsequently not allowed to compete.

Richards continually stated that if she were able to compete in the women’s tournament, it would be “an acceptance of my right to be a woman.”

renee richards.jpg

In a landmark case for transgender rights in the US in 1977, Richards challenged the USTA’s policy of genetic screening for female players, which the New York Supreme Court ruled in her favour. The judge ruled that forcing Richards to take the genetic screening test would be “grossly unfair, discriminatory and inequitable, and a violation of her rights.”

Renée Richards played in the 1977 US Open. She lost in the first round, but made it to the finals in the doubles. Her career high ranking was 20 in the world. After her retirement, she coached tennis legend Martina Navratilova to two Wimbledon Singles Titles.

Richards was inducted into the USTA Eastern Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000, and in 2013 was among the first class of inductees into the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame.

Who Is She?

Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi was an Italian Baroque painter. Her paintings focussed on depicting strong and suffering women from myths and Biblical stories. For many years her work was regarded as strange and curious. Today, she is regarded as one of the most progressive, expressive and accomplished painters of her generation.

In the early 1600’s, Artemisia was raped by her mentor, Agostino Tassi. In her version of Judith Slaying Holofernes, Gentileschi painted herself as Judith, beheading Tassi, who she painted as Holofernes.

Judith Slaying Holofernes, Artemisia Gentileschi, 1620.

Artemisia took Tassi to trial in 1612, which lasted for 7 months. During the trial, Artemisia was tortured with thumbscrews and cords of rope tied around her hands to “prove” she was telling the truth. During the torture (which seriously injured her hands) she was repeatedly asked if Tassi had raped her, and she continually replied, “it is true, it is true.”

 Tassi repeatedly tried to discredit Artemisia by bringing up her sexual history, a tried and trusted method of today’s cultural and legal defences of rape.

Artemisia’s story is brave and inspirational. It should not, however, overshadow her incredible talent as an artist.  Let’s not forget that she could paint any of those dudes out the room.