Papers and correspondence of Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, 1903-1971

Reference and contact details: GB 103 Lonsdale papers
Title: Papers and correspondence of Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, 1903-1971
Dates of creation: ca 1914-1989
Held at: University College London
Extent: 111 archive boxes
Name of Creator: Lonsdale, Dame Kathleen, 1903-1971. Dame, x-ray crystallographer
Level of Description: fonds
Language of Material: English

Administrative/Biographical History

Dame Kathleen Lonsdale was one of the foremost X-ray crystallographers of the twentieth century and one of the first two women to be elected (in 1945, with Marjory Stephenson) Fellow of the Royal Society. Born Kathleen Yardley in Newbridge, Southern Ireland, in 1903, she was the youngest of ten children in a family at times reduced to poverty. In 1908 the family moved to Seven Kings in Essex and Lonsdale attended the County High School for Girls in Ilford where she consistently achieved academic excellence. At the age of sixteen she won a place at Bedford College for Women and graduated in physics in 1922. Her achievement in finishing first in the University of London BSc Honours exam immediately gained her a place in W.H. Bragg's research team, first at University College London (UCL) and, from 1923, at the Royal Institution.

Lonsdale, working with W.T. Astbury, began to apply space group theories to the study of X-ray diffraction patterns from crystals. Their important paper 'Tabulated data for the examination of the 230 space-groups by homogeneous X-rays' was submitted to the Royal Society and published in Philosophical Transactions (1924). In the following years international crystallographers recognised the need for more comprehensive tables for crystal structure determination. Lonsdale was a member of the editorial group concerned with the production of new tables and, working from home in the early 1930s following the birth of her first child, provided the structure factor formulae for each space group. The resulting International Tables, published in 1935, proved to be only the beginning of a project to which she devoted a great amount of time and effort during the rest of her career. In 1948 Lonsdale was made the first Chairman of the new Commission on Tables and was the principal editor in the production of the new volumes of International Tables, the first of which appeared in 1951.

Following her marriage in 1927 Lonsdale worked briefly at the University of Leeds where she carried out important analyses of hexamethylbenzene and hexachlorobenzene crystals. She returned to the Royal Institution in 1931 and remained there for fifteen years, concentrating on research on diamagnetic anisotropy. Her work on the magnetic anisotropy of benzil led to her studies of disorder in crystals caused by thermal motions, one of her principal research interests during the rest of her career.

In 1946 Lonsdale accepted the post of Reader in Crystallography at UCL, becoming Professor of Chemistry in 1949. She established her own research school there and introduced two new courses in crystallography, one for undergraduates and the other for graduates. Among a wide diversity of interests, she studied methonium compounds, urinary calculi and synthetic diamonds, though her work on the International Tables diverted a considerable amount of her time away from research.

Lonsdale and her husband became Quakers in 1935 and her pacifism led to her refusal to register for civil defence duties, although she was willing to work as a volunteer. On her refusal to pay a fine imposed for non-registration she was imprisoned in Holloway gaol for one month in 1943. Prison was a formative experience for her, and the insights that she gained while at Holloway prompted her to take an active interest in penal reform. She was made a member of the Board of Visitors, Aylesbury Prison for Women and Borstal Institution for Girls in 1949 and later served as Vice-Chairman of the Board of Visitors of a borstal in Essex. World peace and ethics in science were issues which also concerned her. She was Vice-President of the Atomic Scientists' Association and President of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. She attended several Pugwash Conferences on World Affairs and expressed her hopes for peace in numerous articles, including a Penguin Special 'Is Peace Possible?', and lectures.

Lonsdale was a member of Council and Vice-President of the Royal Society, 1960-1961; Vice President of the International Union of Crystallography, 1960-1966, and President in 1966; General Secretary of the British Association, 1959-1964, President of the Physics Section in 1967 and President of the British Association in 1968, the first woman to hold the post. In the years following her election to the Royal Society, Lonsdale received many other awards in recognition of her contributions to science. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1956 and awarded the Davy Medal of the Royal Society in 1957. She received honorary degrees (DSc or LLD) from several universities including those of Wales, Leicester, Manchester, Oxford, Bath and Leeds. Lonsdale died on 1 April 1971.

Scope and Content

Biographical material includes correspondence and papers relating to Lonsdale's imprisonment in Holloway Prison, with her own accounts of her time there. There are also diaries and personal notebooks, 1946-1969, letters of congratulation on her election as Fellow of the Royal Society, and various photographs dating from school to her later years.

Research material cover the period 1924-1970 and broadly divides into Royal Institution and UCL sub-sections. The Royal Institution papers comprise notebooks, one dating from Lonsdale's first period there (1923-1927), correspondence with colleagues such as W.H. Bragg and J.M. Robertson and Lonsdale's notes and drafts for various research topics. Correspondence and papers dating from her UCL years cover many different areas of research, including diffuse scattering of X-rays, thermal vibrations in crystals, methonium compounds and urinary calculi. The last topic is particularly well documented, with several case studies included. There is also a large group of photographs, mostly of X-ray diffraction patterns. For the years at UCL there are records of Lonsdale's teaching and administrative work. There are papers, some of them manuscript, relating to her teaching of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and significant documentation relating to laboratory personnel, research funding, general university administration and the 'Round Table on Peace Studies' which proposed establishing a centre for research into international conflict.

Publications, lectures and broadcasts material is extensive. There are drafts of articles, books, book reviews, obituaries, and letters to newspapers and magazines. The articles include some on peace and religious issues and the letters to newspapers and magazines are principally on atomic weapons. Notes and drafts for lectures cover an extended period from 1933-1970 and include some on the ethics and the role of science in society. Scripts for broadcasts date from 1945 to 1967, the topics ranging from crystallography to religion. Lonsdale's work on the International Tables for Crystal Structure Determination is also extensively documented, chiefly from 1948 when Lonsdale was made Chairman of the Commission on Tables, in the form of drafts, notes and correspondence with colleagues and publishers.

There is significant documentation of Lonsdale's visits and conferences, 1943-1971. She attended many scientific conferences around the world and delivered lectures principally on crystallography and science ethics. On longer trips she often combined a number of her interests and responsibilities, including work for the Society of Friends. Of significant interest are papers covering her visit to China in 1955 and her world tour of 1965. Lonsdale's association with twenty-two societies and organisations is represented in the archival record. There is significant documentation for her involvement in the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the International Union of Crystallography. There are also papers relating to her participation in Pugwash Conferences on World Affairs, 1958-1970. Her interest in prison reform is represented by a group of papers concerning the running of Bullwood Hall Borstal, Essex, where she was Vice-Chairman of the Board of Visitors.

Lonsdale's correspondence covers the period, 1927-1974. It consists of two main sequences of correspondence, one arranged alphabetically, the other chronologically, including 'important early letters', 1927-1929 and 'day files', principally carbons of outgoing correspondence, 1966-1969. Correspondents include Max Born, W.H. Bragg, W.L. Bragg, E.G. Cox, P.P. Ewald, D.M.C Hodgkin, H.J. Milledge, L.C. Pauling and A.J.C. Wilson.

System of Arrangement

By section as follows: Biographical, University College London, Research, International Tables for Crystal Structure Determination, Publications, lectures and broadcasts, Visits and conferences, Societies and organisations, Correspondence. Index of correspondents.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were received from Dr H.J. Milledge, Lonsdale's former colleague at University College London, in 1998 and 1999. Placed in the Library, University College London in 2002.

Access Conditions

Visits to the Special Collections reading room by appointment. Admission is by UCL I.D. and/or by completing a reader application form for consultation for manuscripts and archives.

Finding Aids

Printed Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Dame Kathleen Lonsdale: NCUACS catalogue no. 106/5/02, 275pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath