Wrinch, Dorothy, 1894-1976

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Crystallographer, biochemist, mathematician, and physicist.

From the description of Papers, 1919-1975. (American Institute of Physics). WorldCat record id: 79752694

Dorothy Wrinch with students at Smith College, 1965-1966

Dorothy Maud Wrinch was a chemist, biologist, and physicist most famous for her development of the cyclol theory. Throughout her career, she used her background in mathematics to apply math to biology, and was an important early figure in molecular biology.

Wrinch was born in 1894 in Rosario, Argentina to English parents Ada Minnie Souter and Hugh Edward Hart Wrinch. In 1913 Wrinch received a scholarship to Girton College, a residential women's college at Cambridge. There she studied pure and applied mathematics, earning her BA degree with first-class honors in 1916. Wrinch stayed a fourth year at Girton to study mathematical logic with Bertrand Russell. After earning her MA in 1918, Wrinch taught mathematics at University College, London while completing her MSc (1920) and DSc (1922). She moved to Oxford in 1922 after marrying John Nicholson. (They would separate in 1930.) Wrinch taught mathematics to women at Oxford and earned her second MSc in 1924. Her daughter, Pamela, was born in 1928. The next year, Wrinch was the first woman awarded a DSc from Oxford. She diverged from her more prominent mathematical writings in 1930 when she published the sociological work Retreat from Parenthood under the pseudonym Jean Ayling.

In the 1930s, Wrinch expanded her studies to biology and chemistry, and traveled to several locations throughout Europe for fellowships. She came to the United States in 1935 on a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, and after the outbreak of World War II, was to live in the United States for the remainder of her life. Wrinch lectured at Johns Hopkins University from 1939 to 1941, after which she became a visiting research professor for Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Amherst Colleges. Wrinch remarried in 1941, to Amherst College biology professor Otto C. Glaser, and became a U.S. citizen in 1943. It was during this time that Wrinch developed and first published her controversial cyclol theory of protein structure. Wrinch wrote extensively on this theory, and defended it enthusiastically at all points. Though she had some supporters, notably Irving Langmuir, she had many more critics, among them Linus Pauling. Though her theory was eventually applied successfully, Wrinch's overzealous and singular focus on cyclol theory alienated her from many in the scientific community.

Wrinch was appointed a Smith College professor in 1942, and for the next three decades, researched, lectured, and taught graduate student seminars there. During summers, she and her family lived in Woods Hole, Massachusetts where she taught and lectured in physics. Her research during the 1940s focused on developing techniques for interpreting complex crystal structure x-rays, as well as mineralogy. In 1954 Wrinch finally won definitive support for her cyclol theory when cyclol bonds were found in ergot alkaloids. Throughout the course of her career, she published 192 works, a list of which can be found in Marjorie Senechal's Structures of Matter and Patterns in Science (in SERIES VIII. SMITH COLLEGE - Symposium ).

Otto Glaser died in 1951 and Wrinch's daughter Pamela was killed in a fire in 1975. Wrinch moved to Woods Hole after her retirement from Smith in 1971. She died February 11, 1976.

From the guide to the Dorothy Wrinch Papers MS 178., 1901-1983, 1919-1975, (Sophia Smith Collection)

Crystallographer; Biochemist; Mathematician; Physicist.

Dorothy Wrinch was born in 1894 of English parents in Rosario, Argentina. She received her BA and MA degrees from Cambridge University, MSc and DSc degrees from the University of London, and MA and DSc degrees from Oxford. She came to the United States in 1941 at the joint invitation of Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Amherst Colleges. She held various posts as lecturer and visiting research professor in the Smith College physics department until 1966 and was a Sophia Smith Fellow until 1971. Wrinch was the author of many scholarly papers and technical monographs in mathematics, philosophy, x-ray crystallography, mineralogy, and protein chemistry. She created of the cyclol theory of peptide structures. She was married in 1922 to John Nicholson, professor of physics at Oxford. The marriage was later dissolved. Wrinch and Nicholson had a daughter. In 1941 Dorothy Wrinch married Otto C. Glaser, professor of biology at Amherst College. She died in 1976.

From the description of Dorothy Wrinch Papers, 1919-1975. (Smith College). WorldCat record id: 143665887

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Harrison, Ross G. (Ross Granville), 1870-1959. Ross Granville Harrison papers, 1820-1975 (inclusive), 1889-1959 (bulk). Yale University Library
creatorOf Wrinch, Dorothy, 1894-1976. Dorothy Wrinch Papers, 1919-1975. Smith College, Neilson Library
creatorOf [Dorothy Wrinch, biographical materials] University of Wisconsin - Madison, General Library System
referencedIn Hodgkin, Dorothy, 1910-1994. Papers of Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, 1928-1993. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Wrinch, Dorothy, 1894-1976. Papers, 1919-1975. American Institute of Physics
referencedIn Harrison, Ross G. (Ross Granville), 1870-1959. Ross Granville Harrison papers, 1820-1975 (inclusive), 1889-1959 (bulk). Yale University Library
referencedIn Fankuchen, Isidor, 1904-1964. Papers, 1932-1964. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
creatorOf Dorothy Wrinch Papers MS 178., 1901-1983, 1919-1975 Sophia Smith Collection
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Bohrs, Niels Henrik David, 1885-1962 person
associatedWith Fankuchen, Isidor, 1904-1964. person
correspondedWith Harker, David person
associatedWith Harrison, Ross G. (Ross Granville), 1870-1959. person
associatedWith Hodgekins, Dorothy Crowfoot person
associatedWith Hodgekins, Dorothy Crowfoot. person
associatedWith Hodgkin, Dorothy, 1910-1994. person
correspondedWith Langmuir, Irving, 1881-1957 person
associatedWith Neville, Eric Harold, 1889- person
correspondedWith Pauling, Linus, 1901- person
associatedWith Rockefeller Foundation. corporateBody
associatedWith Russell, Bertrand, 1872-1970 person
associatedWith Smith College corporateBody
correspondedWith Sobotka, Harry, 1899-1965 person
correspondedWith Stoll, Arthur, b. 1887 person
correspondedWith Thompson, D'Arcy Wentworth, 1860-1948 person
associatedWith Wrinch family family
associatedWith Wrinch family. family
Place Name Admin Code Country
United States
Geometry, Solid
Peptides (Biochemistry)
Vitamin B12
Women biochemists
Women biochemists
Women physicists
Women physicists
Women scientists
Women scientists
Women physicists


Birth 1894-09-12

Death 1976-02-11


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