January 28, 1903
Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland
April 1, 1971 (aged 68)
University of Leeds
|Alma mater||University College London|
|Doctoral advisor||William Henry Bragg|
|Known for||X-ray crystallography|
|Notable awards||Davy Medal (1957)|
Dame Kathleen Lonsdale, DBE (née Yardley) (28 January 1903 - 1 April 1971) was a crystallographer, who established the structure of benzene by X-ray diffraction methods in 1929, and hexachlorobenzene by Fourier spectral methods in 1931. During her career she attained a number of firsts for a female scientist including first woman elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, first woman tenured professor at University College London, first woman president of the International Union of Crystallography, and first woman president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.
Lonsdale was born at Newbridge, County Kildare, Ireland, the tenth child of Harry Yardley, the town postmaster, and Jessie Cameron. Her family moved to England when she was five. She studied at Woodford County High School for Girls, then moved to Ilford County High School for Boys to study mathematics and science because the girls' school did not offer these subjects.
She earned her B.Sc. from Bedford College for Women in 1922, graduating in physics with an M.Sc. from University College London in 1924. She then joined the crystallography research team headed by William Henry Bragg at the Royal Institution. In 1927 she married Thomas Jackson Lonsdale. They had three children – Jane, Nancy, and Stephen - the latter of whom became a medical doctor and worked for several years in Malawi.
Though she had been brought up in the Baptist religion as a child, Kathleen Lonsdale became a Quaker in 1935, simultaneously with her husband. Both of them were committed pacifists and were attracted to Quakerism in no small part for this reason. She served a month in Holloway prison during the Second World War because she refused to register for civil defence duties or pay a fine for refusing to register. At the annual meeting of the British Quakers in 1953 she delivered the keynote Swarthmore Lecture, under the title Removing the Causes of War.
Lonsdale worked at the University of Leeds in the late 1920s, was mostly a full-time mother of small children during the early 1930s, and returned to work with Bragg at the Royal Institution as a researcher in 1934. She was awarded a D.Sc. from University College London in 1936 while at the Royal Institution. In addition to discovering the structure of benzene and hexachlorobenzene, Lonsdale worked on the synthesis of diamonds. She was a pioneer in the use of X-rays to study crystals. Lonsdale became one of the first two female Fellows of the Royal Society in 1945 (the other was the biochemist Marjory Stephenson).
In 1949, Lonsdale became a professor of chemistry and the head of the Department of Crystallography at University College, London. She was the first woman professor at that college, a position she held until 1968 when she was named Professor Emeritus. A Kathleen Lonsdale Building is named in her honour today at University College London.
She was given the title Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1956. Lonsdale became the first woman president of the International Union of Crystallography in 1966. Lonsdale was active in encouraging young people to study science and was the first woman president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1967. She died in 1971, aged 68.