Dorothy Crowfoot was born in Cairo on May 12th, 1910 where her father was working in the Egyptian Education Service. Her parents moved soon afterwards to Sudan and she spent large parts of her youth there although she was educated in England at the Sir John Leman School, Beccles.
She became fascinated at an early age with minerals and crystals and was encouraged by a friend of her parents, Dr. A. F. Joseph and he gave her a portable mineral analysis kit. She used this to analyse pebbles she and her sister found in the stream that ran through the family's garden in Khartoum, Sudan. When she was fifteen her mother gave her Sir William Bragg's Concerning the Nature of Things (1925) which contained discussions on using X-rays to 'see' atoms and molecules.
At school only Dorothy and one other girl were allowed to join the boys in chemistry lessons and Dorothy enjoyed it so much she decided to study chemistry and possibly biochemistry at university.
Dorothy studied chemistry and physics at Somerville College, Oxford and chose to do her fourth year research project on X-ray crystallography.