Brenda Maddox tells a powerful story of a remarkably single-minded, forthright, and tempestuous young woman who, at the age of fifteen, decided she was going to be a scientist, but who was airbrushed out of the greatest scientific discovery of the twentieth century.
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The Dark Lady of DNA
Once in Royal David's City
The Family into which Rosalind Elsie Franklin was born on 25 July 1920, stood high in Anglo-Jewry. Not at the very top: the highest rank was occupied by the oldest Jewish families in England, the Sephardi Jews of Spanish and Portuguese descent who arrived at the time of Cromwell. Nor were the Franklins among the wealthiest of the Ashkenazis from northern Europe, such as the Rothschilds and Goldsmids, who came to England in the eighteenth century seeking opportunity for trade. Yet they were well within the elite network known as 'The Cousinhood', so common was intermarriage.
The first of their English line arrived as Fraenkel from Breslau in Silesia in 1763 and anglicised the name to Franklin, as was sensible. The English were uncomfortable with foreign names, and Jewishness was no advantage at a time there were only 8,000 Jews in England. Benjamin Wolf Franklin lived in the City of London, on Cock Court, Jewry Street. A rabbi and teacher, he married Sarah, the daughter of Lazarus Joseph, originally Lazarus Israel, who emigrated to England from Hamburg around 1760. Benjamin and Sarah had six children before dying in an epidemic in 1785. Their gravestones still stand in the burial ground in Globe Road Cemetery, Mile End, East London.
The two surviving Franklin sons, Abraham and Lewis, went to Portsmouth for apprenticeships in watchmaking and shopkeeping and became successful businessmen. In 1815 or 1816 the brothers shifted to Liverpool and Manchester where they entered firms engaged in money-changing, banking and trade with the West Indies. In time, the Samuels of Liverpool (another line of Silesian exiles) were braided into the Franklin fabric. Over the generations the Abrahams became Alfreds and Arthurs, and the ancestral surname Israel became Ellis. In 1852 the grandson of the original immigrant, Ellis A. Franklin, joined Louis Samuel from Liverpool in the bullion-broking firm of Samuel Montagu and Co., and the alliance was cemented when Ellis married Samuel Montagu's sister.
From 1868 the Franklin family's financial base lay in the City of London, in A. Keyser and Co., a private merchant bank spun off from Samuel Montagu and Co. Keyser's, a source of employment for Franklin sons for the next century, became independent in 1908 and specialised in placing American rail bonds in the City. Among the City's so-called 'Jewish banks', Keyser's was the only one to observe all the Jewish holidays.
From 1902 Franklins were publishers as well as bankers. Keyser's bought the house of George Routledge from the receivers in 1902 and in 1911 took over another ailing publisher, Kegan Paul. This acquisition created a refuge for Franklin males disinclined to banking.
In 1862, in line with the exodus from the City of London where the Jews had clustered, Ellis Franklin shifted to west London and the wealthy Jewish enclave in Bayswater. There he was one of the founders of the New West End Synagogue on St Petersburgh Place. His seven children, all of whom married within the faith, made the family known for prodigious philanthropic zeal -- a leading example of the Jewish tradition of repaying the privilege of wealth through service to those less fortunate. In succeeding generations there was scarcely a Jewish organisation, hospital or old people's home without a Franklin on the board and many secular charities benefited from their dedication as well.
On her mother's side Rosalind's antecedents were intellectual and professional. The Waleys had been in England even longer than the Franklins, having arrived in Portsmouth in 1740 as Levis. Rosalind's maternal great-grandfather, Jacob Waley, took first place in mathematics and classics at University College London, and later became professor of mathematics at the University of London while also practising at the bar. He too was active in Jewish good works, as a founder of the United Synagogue (an association of nominally Orthodox synagogues which observed the German or Polish ritual), and first president of the Anglo-Jewish Association. In a prime example of 'The Cousinhood' in action, he married Matilda Salomons, a niece of both Sir Moses Montefiore and Sir David Salomons, the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London.
Anglo-Jewry was a happy breed: secure, able, influential, socially conscious, cosmopolitan. Its members dressed for dinner, were presented at Court, had their portraits painted by Singer Sargent. Many kept Christmas and Passover, ate kosher and played cricket. The price of belonging was intermarriage. But there was no need for exogamy -- the dreaded 'marrying out'. As prolific as other families of the late-Victorian and Edwardian eras, the clans produced enough offspring to stock a generous marriage pool, and to speed the path to it through a well-organised social round of dances, picnics, theatre parties and country weekends. Rosalind's parents, Ellis Franklin and Muriel Waley, met at an engagement party at the family house in Porchester Terrace, Bayswater, and began their courtship by escaping for a long walk across Hyde Park.
Which was the stronger loyalty -- to country or to faith? There was nothing to choose. As Rosalind's father said when reorganising the New West End Synagogue after the Second World War, 'The whole idea is that Judaism is a religion not a race ... the English Jews are as much English as other English.'
The discovery of the secret of the gene involves a genealogy as long as any in the history of the planet. Elders of the Franklin clan claimed direct descent from King David, founder of Jerusalem, reigning king of Israel c.1000 to c.962 BC, around whom the messianic expectations of the people of Israel clustered. The lineage was spelled out by Rosalind's grandfather, Arthur E. Franklin, in a thick blue book beautifully produced by Routledge, the family firm.
'It may appear strange,' he conceded in his introduction, 'that anyone living in the fourteenth [actually fifteenth] century could trace his descent from King David.' He then proceeded to lay out the evidence ...Rosalind Franklin
The Dark Lady of DNA. Copyright © by Brenda Maddox. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.