Women Scientists at the Humboldt University, 1946-1961

At the Front Door?—Women Scientists at the Humboldt University, 1946-1961


Liselotte Richter (1906-1968), philosopher, Photo: Autoportrait (ca. 1954), in: Schröder, Richard et al. (2006)


The project investigates the conditions female scientists faced at the Berlin University from its re-opening in 1946 to 1961. One of the questions it raises is whether the situation for women scientists improved after the deep setbacks women faced during the Nazi regime. In 1946, six women scientists became professors (out of 300 male professors). They belonged to three (of ten) faculties: the geneticist Elisabeth Schiemann, the philosopher Liselotte Richter, and the Slavic languages expert Margarete Woltner were members of the Philosophical Faculty; Auguste Hoffmann, Elisabeth Nau, and Else Knake taught in the Medical Faculty (where Else Knake became in 1946 the first dean). Between 1948 and 1951, all but one was compelled to leave the university because of political circumstances; only Liselotte Richter remain professor until her retirement (from 1951 onwards she was part of the Theological Faculty).


Examples from the department of mathematical sciences offer insights into the very small number of female professors and their different career paths. In 1946 the geneticist Elisabeth Schiemann was the only female professor there. Having been dismissed in 1940 because of her resistance to the Nazis, she accepted a professorship in 1946 as a form of restitution. In May 1949, she was compelled to leave the University because of the Cold War. The physicist Iris Runge, who worked from 1923 to 1945 in industrial laboratories, submitted her Habilitation in 1947; Runge became a lecturer in 1949 and a professor in 1950. The physicist Katharina Boll-Dornberger belonged to the small group of remigrées. Katharina Boll-Dornberger, born Schiff, submitted her Habilitation in 1953 and was appointed professor in 1956. A student of Dorothy Hodgkin, she established a research group on chrystallography. As a mother of two sons, she also supported women colleagues.



My exploration draws a complex picture of contemporary developments. It makes clear that many discussions and problems from that era remain current in our own time – as the debates about women’s role in science and society, the controversy about scientific work versus motherhood, and the question of couples in science indicate.