News Article

King’s Women Who Made History

Numerous King’s women have gone on to positively impact the world. For Women’s History Month, we are highlighting the stories of five women who had connections to King’s during their lifetimes. Keep reading to learn more about their incredible contributions to history.

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin was born in London in 1920 and studied physical chemistry at the University of Cambridge. She became a research fellow at the Biophysical Laboratory of King’s in 1951, where she used her background in X-ray diffraction to make significant strides in understanding the structure of DNA. An image she took in 1952, ‘Photograph 51’, clearly showed that DNA has a helical structure. This discovery paved the way for James Watson and Francis Crick to construct the first DNA model.

After she left King’s, Franklin worked with a research team at Birkbeck College where she made important discoveries in viruses which would be used for years to come in structural virology studies. Franklin died in 1958, and while many of her contributions to science went largely unrecognised during her lifetime, her discoveries have since been recognised as vital to modern science. The Franklin-Wilkins Building at King’s is named in honour of the work she did with her colleague Maurice Wilkins, and in 2003 the Royal Society of Chemistry named King’s a National Historic Chemical Landmark due to her work.

Florence Nightingale

Nightingale was born in 1820 to a prominent British family in Italy. She rejected Victorian conventions of marriage and instead studied nursing in Germany. She worked as a nurse in London in the 1850s, where she introduced new standards of hygiene. When the Crimean War broke out in 1853, Nightingale became a prominent nursing manager and campaigner. Her experience in the war led to her founding the first professional nursing school in the world at St Thomas’ Hospital, now the King’s Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery & Palliative Care. 

Nightingale had a significant impact on standards of hygiene and disease prevention. Her work as a statistician demonstrated that soldiers were dying unnecessarily from diseases that could be avoided with better sanitation methods. She fell ill at 38 due to her involvement on the frontlines in Crimea, but spent the rest of her life working to reform healthcare standards even while bedridden. She received numerous honours during her lifetime, and is regarded by many to have founded modern nursing. 

Sarojini Naidu

Sarojini Naidu began studying at King’s in 1895, when she was only 16. She then went on to study at Girton College, Cambridge. Naidu was a lifelong activist who believed in nonviolent resistance. She was a well-known orator in India from 1904, speaking about issues such as Indian independence and women’s education. She founded the Women’s Indian Association in 1917 and travelled widely to give speeches on women’s rights and representation. 

In 1925, she became the first Indian woman to serve as president of the Indian National Congress, and worked with prominent Indian independence leaders to try to achieve women’s suffrage from the British government. She worked tirelessly for independence from Britain, which led to her imprisonment on multiple occasions. After independence in 1947, she served as the first governor of the United Provinces until her death in 1949. Naidu is also remembered as a highly accomplished poet and writer.

Edith Morley

Edith Morley was born in 1875 in London. She is remembered as a suffragist, accomplished scholar, and the first female professor in the United Kingdom. She studied at the King’s Ladies’ Department in 1892, but despite her clear abilities faced barriers within education as a woman. She began studying at Oxford, but received an ‘equivalent’ degree and was not granted the Associateship of King’s College or her MA from Oxford until later in life.

Due in part to the barriers she faced, Morley was an avowed socialist and member of the Fabian Society. She promoted women’s rights throughout her career and argued that marriage was a tool used to prevent women from advancing in the workforce. She fought for fair treatment in the workplace, and became a Professor of English Language at the University of Reading, where she taught English literature until 1940. She was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1950 to recognise her role in aiding refugees during World War II.

Kofoworola Abeni Pratt

Kofoworola Abeni Pratt was born in 1915 in Lagos, Nigeria. She moved to London in 1946 and studied nursing at the St Thomas’ Hospital, the first Black student to do so. She qualified as a nurse in 1949, and then trained in midwifery at the Hospital for Tropical Medicine in St Pancras. She worked for Guy’s Hospital from 1952 to 1954. Pratt is remembered as the first qualified Black nurse to work for the NHS. 

She returned to Nigeria in 1954 and worked at institutions such as the newly constructed Adeoyo Hospital, where she reformed administration and played a crucial role in its formation. She founded a nursing school in 1965 at the University of Ibadan, and was honoured with the Florence Nightingale Medal by the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1973 for her contributions to healthcare. Today, Guy’s and St Thomas award the Kofoworola Abeni Pratt Fellowship to individuals from minority ethnic backgrounds to honour Pratt and diversify the medical field.

Women’s History Month is from the 1st to the 31st of March. See more about the events and initiatives we’re running to mark the month here:


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