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Thomas Lionel Hodgkin, 1928-1983


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Dorothy Hodgkin's husband, whom she met at the home of Margery Fry while working at the Royal Institution, Easter 1937, and married in December of the same year.

Thomas Hodgkin (1910-1982) served in the Colonial Office in Palestine 1933-196; he worked as a Staff Tutor for the Workers Educational Association 1939-1945. From 1946 to 1952 he was Secretary to the Oxford Delegacy for Extra-Mural Studies. Visits to the Gold Coast (later Ghana) and the Sudan to initiate adult education courses led to a lifelong love for Africa and Africans. He undertook many subsequent journeys, studying the previous history of the regions and identifying himself with their growing nationalism and struggles for independence. He became the first Director of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana 1961-1965, and wrote widely on African history and politics.

Thomas was himself a prolific and lively correspondent, with a distinctive small neat handwriting, sloping upwards and always leaving a wide left-hand margin often filled with addenda. Few of his letters survive in this collection; they are presented at MS. Eng. c. 7933/1-4. Letters which were incorporated in other items are noted in the Index. Two collections of his letters have been published: Thomas Hodgkin: Letters from Palestine 1932-1936, ed. E.C. Hodgkin (London 1986), and Thomas Hodgkin: Letters from Africa 1947-1956, ed. Elizabeth Hodgkin and Michael Wolfers (London 2000).

The overwhelming majority of the material presented here is Dorothy's correspondence with her husband, from their engagement in 1937 to 1977. The correspondence continues steadily through his wartime absences in the north of England as a W.E.A. tutor and his later extended travels and residence in Africa, with varying gaps during his presence with the family in Oxford.

It forms a rich source of information about Hodgkin herself, her research and career, and also into the social and political activities of a liberal-socialist, well-connected, middle class family of the time. Thomas himself was a member of the Communist Party from 1936 to 1949. Dorothy did not take this step but she was an active member of the Oxford Labour Party, attended its meetings and demonstrations, and always retained a favourable view of the Soviet Union.

Dorothy aimed to send a letter each day (on more than one occasion she sent two on the same day), no matter what the hour, the conditions or the materials to hand. Many letters are dog-eared, torn and dirty; some are on headed writing paper from Somerville College, various laboratories or Crab Mill, but more are on odd scraps of paper. They are written in college, in the laboratory, on trains or in train stations, at the dentist's, from hospital, in her garden, the University Parks, or during college committee meetings. They are almost always (Sundays are an exception) hurried or late, with Dorothy dashing out to catch the last post, missing it, and sometimes finding an unposted letter in her pocket several days later.

Tantalisingly, and especially during the early years of her marriage, very few are fully dated, some not at all. Every effort has been made to supply an approximate date from context, reference to academic, career or domestic events, to the early chronicles of the children's development, or to the notes of the weather, garden or scenery which Hodgkin frequently included. Some have tentative dates added in Thomas Hodgkin's hand. The airmail letters of the later years are more fully dated and postmarked.

The content of the letters is of great interest. In the early years (1938-1944) Hodgkin was under much pressure with days full of 'jobs' as she called them, in house, college and laboratory. Her scientific work was advancing quietly on several fronts with a growing research team and increasing respect from the wider scientific community. Her college responsibilities of committees, interviews and admissions, and the teaching of her 'girls' remained tasks which she fulfilled, not always with great joy and sometimes in rather a rush. The births, babyhood and growth of her children, their ailments, absences and achievements at school, are a constant theme.

Added to these was the family tradition of casual entertaining. Colleagues from the laboratory like Carlisle or Riley, others from outside Oxford such as Bernal, Perutz or Waddington, Labour Party associates, Somerville friends and wartime evacuees often arrived unannounced. Much hospitality was given and received. There were always maids and a cook to assist, but surprisingly little mention is made of wartime rationing and shortages.

Despite her fatigue - Hodgkin often writes of going to bed, or dropping off to sleep, at 9.30 - political or scientific discussions with friends would continue till 1.00 or 2.00 am, after which she might fit in reading for the next day. Only once does she seem to buckle, writing in a letter dated 'Monday' (MS. Eng. c. 7933/12, probably 1940) 'Sometimes I feel depressed and wonder whether it's worth the struggle to keep this place and work going'. Otherwise she maintains an unruffled youthful alertness, unfazed by unheralded (or forgotten) events. During this period, husband and wife aimed to spend alternate weekends in Cumbria or Staffordshire where Thomas was teaching, or in Oxford; she writes with longing expectation, or happy recollections, of these meetings. Though she herself had complicated arrangements to make before she could get away, her concern is always that Thomas might find the travel too exhausting.

From the mid-1940s the pace of 'my hard working days' increased and with it growing recognition and success. Modest though she was, Hodgkin gains confidence, becoming more forthright in giving assessments of people or issues, bolder in recommendations, or dismissals, of candidates for academic or other posts, more experienced in discreet 'wire-pulling', more prepared even to have Thomas and his visits fit into her own schedule of engagements. In the 1950s the letters are more factual on research meetings and conferences, with more technical detail than she previously gave to Thomas; this may reflect her growing fame and confidence, or perhaps his fuller comprehension of her work. Generous hospitality continued, as the family expanded to include visiting colleagues and her children's wide circle of friends. Hodgkin enjoyed the 'nice companionship' of 'a lovely houseful', or '23 people to tea, of very mixed kinds, mostly unexpected'.

Hodgkin's day-to-day organisation was notoriously chaotic. Missed posts, lost trains, overlooked dates, absence of pens, pencils and paper or scrambles against the clock were common but accepted facts of life. On one occasion, after a visit to Cambridge for meetings with Perutz and Lawrence Bragg, she missed her rail connection from London to Oxford and spent a 'horribly cold' night on Paddington Station, catching the dawn train and arriving home in Oxford at 7.30 to find Luke 'somewhat weepy' (undated letter at MS. Eng. c. 7933/12, probably 1940). The last letter in the sequence (MS. Eng. c. 7936/10), from 'Seattle and San Francisco' dated 20 Feb. 1977, includes the information that she has inadvertently brought the car keys with her, has no address or telephone number for her daughter Liz and no envelope for her non-airmail letter (written on Crab Mill paper). Yet here as always the tone is of tender unquestioning devotion.

The correspondence has been drawn upon extensively by Ferry in her biography. Cross-references to her text and notes are given as far as possible.

A little material following Thomas's death in 1982 is at MS. Eng. c. 7936/11-13.


  • Creation: 1928-1983

Language of Materials

  • English

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom