Personal Papers of Dorothy Mary Moyle Needham

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Original material: although by no means comprehensive, the papers provide documentation of many aspects of her life and career. There are extensive personal and biographical records, especially correspondence from friends and relatives, including a sequence of letters from her husband during his visits abroad, 1967-1986, and material documenting Dorothy Needham's involvement with a wide range of charitable, humanitarian and political causes. There is also correspondence relating to the terms and conditions of support for her work in Cambridge, 1949-1955. Other items of personal interest include a hand-written and illustrated poem by F.G. Hopkins celebrating her marriage to Joseph Needham in 1924. There is little research material but Dorothy Needham's lectures in Cambridge (and wartime China) are represented and there is very substantial documentation for 'Machina Carnis' and for a 'Sourcebook for the history of biochemistry' unfinished at her death. Scientific correspondence is not extensive and Dorothy Needham's own letters are often only represented by rough manuscript drafts. First supplementary material: Documentation relating to the foundation of two Cambridge women's colleges - New Hall in 1954 and Lucy Cavendish in 1965. Needham was closely involved in the establishment of both through her membership of the Third Foundation Association and the Society of Women Members of the Regent House Who Are Not Fellows of Colleges. There is a sequence of notebooks covering the period 1914-1962 which includes many undergraduate notebooks from her studies for the Natural Sciences Tripos at Girton College, Cambridge, 1915-1919. There is also further material relating to her book 'Machina Carnis'. Second supplementary material: The papers include biographical and personal material from Dorothy Needham's time in China, 1944-1945, with the Sino-British Science Cooperation Office, of which her husband Joseph Needham was Director. There is also a little personal correspondence, material relating to a number of the appeals and campaigns with which she was associated, and photographs. There are very slight additions to the material in the earlier deposits relating to Cambridge University and publications and lectures. Visits and conferences material is principally a sequence of travel diaries spanning the period 1944-1977. They are in the form of notebooks - or loose pages from same - used for recording, usually in some detail, travel, institutions visited, contacts made and personal observations on food, social activities etc. There is also a little additional material relating to other visits and conferences 1948-1972. Scientific correspondence is chiefly the contents of Needham's folder of 'Notes concerning published papers and letters' which includes correspondence from L. H. Stickland, Jean Hanson and Lou[is Rapkine].

Administrative / Biographical History

Dorothy Mary Moyle was born in London on 22 September 1896. She was educated at Claremont College, Stockport, St Hilary's School, Alderley Edge and Girton College, Cambridge. She passed Part II of the Natural Sciences Tripos, specialising in chemistry, in 1919 and began research with F.G. Hopkins at the Sir William Dunn Institute of Biochemistry, Cambridge. In 1924 Dorothy Moyle married Joseph Needham, a fellow worker in Hopkins's laboratory. She continued research, undertaking important work on carbohydrate metabolism in muscle. From 1930 to 1940 she was involved in pioneering work on the part played by ATP (adenosinetriphosphate) in the contraction of muscle. In 1940 Dorothy Needham joined the chemical defence research group led by Malcolm Dixon and this was followed by a period in China where Joseph Needham was Scientific Counsellor at the British Embassy in Chungking. After the war she returned to Cambridge to research on enzyme biochemistry, retiring from active research in 1963 to work on her book 'Machina Carnis: the biochemistry of muscular contraction in its historical development', published in 1971. In recognition of her work in Cambridge she was elected to the Fellowship of three Cambridge colleges: Girton, Lucy Cavendish and Gonville and Caius, where she was the first woman to be admitted to the Fellowship. She died in 1987.


By section as follows: biographical and personal, Cambridge University, notebooks, lectures and publications, visits and conferences, correspondence, non-print material, index of correspondents.

Conditions Governing Access

Access is open to bona fide scholars by appointment only.

Other Finding Aids

As at Sep 2008 an online catalogue for Girton College Archives was available at As at 2002 an on-line finding aid was available at: There were also printed catalogues of the papers and correspondence of Dorothy Mary Moyle Needham published by National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists (NCUACS): see NCUACS catalogue no. 22/7/90, 58 pp, NCUACS catalogue no. 37/5/92, 21 pp and NCUACS catalogue no. 62/5/96, 20 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Archivist's Note

Collection Description taken from Genesis in Sep 2008 as part of Genesis 2008 Project. Description by Catherine Burke, Genesis Project Officer 17/01/2002

Related Material

Material relating to Dorothy Needham may also be found in the papers and correspondence of Joseph Needham, whose papers are in Cambridge University Library.

Geographical Names