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Dorothy Wrinch papers

Identifier: SSC-MS-00178

Scope and Contents

The Dorothy Wrinch Papers contain original manuscripts; models; printed material; publications and writings; notebooks and scrapbooks; as well as extensive correspondence which illuminates her research and views on crystal structure, cyclols, peptides, mineral twins, x-ray methods, insulin, and polyhedra. Also included are articles by colleagues and contemporaries, lecture notes, grant correspondence, models and photographs. There are also selected letters and writings by her daughter Pamela Wrinch Schenkman (1927-75).

Dates of Materials

  • Creation: 1901-1983
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1919-1975


Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research use without restriction beyond the standard terms and conditions of Smith College Special Collections.

Conditions Governing Use

Materials in this collection may be governed by copyright. For reproductions of materials that are governed by fair use as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission to cite or publish is required. Researchers are responsible for determining who may hold materials' copyrights and obtaining approval from them. Researchers do not need anything further from Smith College Special Collections to move forward with their use.

Biographical / Historical

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.


17.022 linear feet (37 containers)


Crystallographer, Biochemist, Mathematician, Physicist. Papers contain original manuscripts; models; printed material; publications and writings; notebooks and scrapbooks; as well as extensive correspondence which illuminate her research and views on crystal structure, cyclols, peptides, mineral twins, x-ray methods, insulin, and polyhedra.


This collection is organized into eleven series:

  1. I. BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS (1933-63, n.d.)
  2. II. PHOTOGRAPHS (1964-87)
  3. III. CORRESPONDENCE (1924-75, n.d.)
  4. IV. GRANTS (1930-64)
  5. V. PUBLICATIONS (1919-65)
  6. VI. WRITINGS (1930-1970, n.d.)
  8. VIII. SMITH COLLEGE (1940-71, n.d.)
  9. IX. MISCELLANEOUS (1923-69)
  10. X. PAMELA WRINCH (1945-54, n.d.)
  11. XI. NOTEBOOKS (1930-69, n.d.)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Dorothy Wrinch donated her papers to the Sophia Smith Collection in 1976.

Related Materials

Related materials in the Smith College Archives: Faculty files; President's Office files (correspondence re: appointment); and files on 1976 symposium in honor of Dorothy Wrinch.


Julian, Maureen M. "Wrinch, Dorothy Maud." Susan Ware, ed. Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary Completing the 20th Century. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press, 2004.

Processing Information

Reprocessed by Carrie Baldwin, 2008.

Dorothy Wrinch papers
Finding Aid
Finding aid prepared by Carrie Baldwin.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 07/26/2017: This resource was modified by the ArchivesSpace Preprocessor developed by the Harvard Library (
  • 2017-07-26T17:48:18-04:00: This record was migrated from InMagic DB Textworks to ArchivesSpace.
  • 2022-03-03: Integrated description of oversized materials

Repository Details

Part of the Sophia Smith Collection of Women's History Repository

Neilson Library
7 Neilson Drive
Northampton MA 01063