Marguerite Wolff was an exception among women scholars in Germany in the first three decades of the twentieth century. Although she neither studied formally at any university nor received other scientific training, she built a scientific institute in Berlin. The wife of a lawyer who was an expert in private law and mother of two sons, she not only herself became an expert in law, but also engaged in research and translation.
Marguerite Jolowicz was born in London on December, 10, 1883. We know nothing about her family background or her childhood. In 1906 she married Martin Wolff (1872–1953), who was professor of law at the University of Berlin and an expert in international private law. They had two sons—Konrad, born in March, 1907, and Victor (1911–1944). In Berlin the couple belonged to the city’s intelligentsia. In 1924, Viktor Bruns (1884–1943), a friend of the family and colleague of Martin, established the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Foreign Public Law and International Law, where Marguerite Wolff held a position from January 1925 until May 1933, first as unofficial co-director and later as a research scholar. Together with Bruns, she expanded the institute, her interests being legal problems in England and North America. She also translated publications on English and American law. Marguerite Wolff later became an assistant and librarian of the institute, publishing several articles on legal problems. Martin Wolff was highly esteemed both at the university and at the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, where in 1926 he became a member of the advisory board of a second Kaiser Wilhelm Institute (KWI) for Foreign Private and International Private Law. While her husband was considered by his colleagues to be an important scholar, Marguerite Wolff’s work received less acknowledgement.
In April 1933, with the accession to power of the Nazi party, Marguerite Wolff was immediately dismissed. She returned to Great Britain, followed in 1935 by her son, Victor. Konrad emigrated only in October 1938, first to France and, in 1941, to the USA. Martin Wolff, who had been under attack by Nazi students from 1933 on, was dismissed in 1935. He decided to emigrate to Great Britain only in the autumn of 1938. At Oxford University he was awarded several fellowships to continue his important work on comparative international private law. The prefaces to his publications typically underestimate the help given him by his wife and colleague.
Although Marguerite Wolff was unable to continue her scholarly work after leaving Germany, she did continue to deal with legal issues, translating works in this area, including a lecture given in London in 1956 by Otto Hahn (1878–1968), the president of the Max Planck Society, which replaced the Kaiser Wilhelm Society. Hahn was unaware that many years earlier Marguerite had been a co-director of one of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes. Marguerite Wolff died in London in 1964.
Archive Berlin University (Archiv HUD): UK W 266 (PA Martin Wolff), esp.. vol.1, p. 2a; Archive MPA (Archiv zur Geschichte der Kaiser-Wilhelm-/Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Berlin): III, 14, Nr.4783 (letters between M. Wolff and O. Hahn in 1956); II, 1A, Personalia Martin Wolff (with the so-called Wiedergutmachung [compensation] of Marguerite Wolff, 1951–1957, with the testimony of Victor Bruns, 19.12.1933); Handbuch der Kaiser Wilhelm Gesellschaft, Hrsg. A. v. Harnack, Berlin: 1928, 215; Biographisches Handbuch der deutschsprachigen Emigration nach 1933. Hrsg. Werner Röder, Herbert A. Strauss. München: 1980–1983, vol. 2, 1261, 1263; von Lösch, Gräfin Anna-Maria. Der nackte Geist. Die Juristische Fakultät der Berliner Universität im Umbruch von 1933. Tübingen: 1999, 360–366; Vogt, Annette. Women Scientists in Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes, from A to Z (Dictionary). Berlin: 1999, 163–164.
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Vogt, Annette B.. "Marguerite Wolff." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 1 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on January 23, 2017) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/wolff-marguerite>.