Dorothy Maud Wrinch

Dorothy Maud Wrinch (1894-1976) was a mathematician and biochemist. Her major contribution was in researching the application of maths to biomolecular structures. In particular, she is remembered for her cyclol protein structure theory.

Wrinch met D’Arcy through the Aristotelian Society, where she attended a debate between D’Arcy Thompson and John Scott Haldane. D’Arcy would go on to become something of a father figure, a mentor, a supporter of her work, and, of course, a friend. Their relationship is illuminated through reading their correspondences.

Dorothy Wrinch

Their relationship

Wrinch addresses D’Arcy as her “most kind and charming patron” (ms24435) and calls herself his “most grateful and devoted disciple” (ms24454). These, amongst other such phrases found in their correspondences, demonstrate her high regard for him. He too thinks very highly of her, describing her as “learned and beautiful” in a letter to Greenhill (ms28729). The two supported each other in the academic sense but also in more personal matters.

In a poignant letter of June 1931 (ms24435), Wrinch details her recent hardships to D’Arcy. Wrinch finds herself in a situation where she alone has to make a living for herself and her young daughter, Pamela (born 1927). Her husband, John Nicholson, has had a break-down and been institutionalised. The benevolent D’Arcy, deeply concerned for Wrinch and her child, demands that the committee of the R.S. reconsider her case for extra funding. We see this in ms24469, a passionate letter sent to Towle, the Assistant Secretary of the Royal Society, London. He also expresses the desperate need to help Wrinch to others he was in correspondence with at the time, including G. T. Bennett. In ms26208, he tells Bennett of Wrinch’s unfortunate situation:

“That wretched husband of hers (Nicholson) has now drunk himself into Lunacy, and the Asylum; and Dorothy is left stranded, with her small child, and a living to make for the both of them… We shall have to do something to help her”.

The fact that Wrinch was able to open up to D’Arcy about her troubles, as she admits she doesn't usually like to talk to friends “except when things are rosy”, is a testament to the special relationship that they had. There is no doubt, D’Arcy was extremely fond of Pam and Wrinch, and these feelings are displayed in ms24476, a letter from D’Arcy to Wrinch:

“Pamela… I can only imagine how fair, and sweet, and good she is… My best and warmest regards to both of you… and an old man’s love to you last of all.”

Through their correspondence, we also catch glimpses of how they were able to support each other with their work. Wrinch is never shy to ask D’Arcy for help or advice. With regards to her cytology paper, she invites D’Arcy to provide comments on it (ms24444). She then goes on to ask him for advice on what to do with her paper (ms24446). As another example, in ms24450, we see her asking D’Arcy for help understanding birds’ wings:

“I wonder if I might bother you with a question? I am working out some new wing profiles suitable I hope for aeroplanes and I want to find out if there is any bird whose wing profile is of a similar type.”

To which he replies (ms24476):

“As to your Birds’ wings… The curves you draw seem to me excellent curves, but not a bit like the profiles of any real bird’s wing… The profile that you draw does remind me of the section of a bird’s body, or (what is the same thing) of the horizontal section of a yacht.”

Furthermore, D’Arcy actively promoted her career, in writing references for her fellowship applications etc. When Wrinch decides to apply for a research fellowship at Somerville College, she asks D’Arcy for help, explaining that “it would be very appropriate and enormously strengthen my application if you could give it your support” (ms24452). She is “thrilled and delighted” when Somerville, perhaps thanks to D’Arcy, agree to take her on (ms24454).

On Growth and Form

Interestingly, D'Arcy also turns to Wrinch for help with On Growth and Form. In the aforementioned letter to Greenhill (ms28729), D’Arcy tells Greenhill to send back the proof-sheets of the 2nd edition of On Growth and Form which he sent him before, and to think no more about them, for Wrinch will be able to provide D’Arcy the help he needs:

“She is interested in G. and F., and I am sure she will do what is necessary, without it being much of a trouble to her.”

To see details of the kind of maths D'Arcy turned to Wrinch for help with, click here.

Back to Shrinkage



Overview & D'Arcy's Life


On Growth and Form


Heilmann & Shufeldt


Maths of Transformations




D'Arcy and Mathematics


Coordinate Transformations


Logarithmic Spirals


Forms of Cells


Forms and Mechanical efficiency




Wartime and D'Arcy


The Leg as a Pendulum


Recreational Maths


Fibonacci Sequence




All Correspondence Links

Claxton Fidler


Eric Harold Neville


John Marshall


Alfred North Whitehead


Charles Robert Darling


Peter Guthrie Tait


William Peddie


Geoffrey Thomas Bennett


Dorothy Wrinch


Main Index Biographies Index

The support of The Strathmartine Trust towards this website is gratefully acknowledged    

Cammy Sriram and Edward Smith © July 2019
Creative Commons LicenceExcept where otherwise indicated, the text in this work by Cammy Sriram and Edd Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
School of Mathematics and Statistics
University of St Andrews, Scotland

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