This Week in History


Death of Elsa Neumann, first female doctoral graduate of University of Berlin

July 23, 1902
Elsa Neumann Graduation
Full image
Elsa Neumann's graduation from the University of Berlin, 1899. Public domain.

Elsa Neumann, a prominent scientific explorer and the first woman to receive a doctoral degree at the University of Berlin, died on July 23, 1902.

Born in Berlin on August 23, 1872 to a relatively wealthy family, she was the only one of her family’s seven children to receive higher education.  After private tutoring at home, she became a guest student of mathematics, physics and chemistry at universities in Goettingen and Berlin, requiring official permission from every one of the professors whose lecture she wished to attend.  When she received her doctorate, she was the first woman graduate and the first woman physicist, nine years before women were officially allowed to study at the University.

Her aptitude in science enabled her to work in the fields of chemistry and aviation research, including the flight of a Zeppelin airship in 1902.  A prominent figure in Berlin society, she became a star in the print media, using her popularity to found an association for making grants to women students.  The association was successful in supporting the careers of other budding women scientists.

One hundred years after her graduation, the physicists of the Humboldt University organized a special colloquium to honor Elsa Neumann and in 2002 celebrated the second Elsa Neumann Colloquium.

See also:Lydia Rabinowitsch-Kempner”, Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

Sources:Elsa Neumann”, Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.


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