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Clara Immerwahr Foundation. For Woman in Science!

Clara Immerwahr – one of the first women at the University of Wrocław. The first female PhD graduate of this university. A tragic figure who took her own life to protest against unethical experiments. Today, the Clara Immerwahr University Foundation, in commemorating the first female doctor at the University, wants primarily to strengthen the position of women in science.

As the founders of the Foundation write in the statutes: “The Clara Immerwahr University Foundation was established to support scientific, research, teaching, social, and student activities that strengthen the active presence of women in science and also the development of Polish society in the spirit of respect for equality and diversity and the balance between truth and goodness and beauty.”

– Clara Immerwahr is a symbol for us. The first woman to achieve a PhD at the University of Wrocław, she was very committed to scientific research. On the other hand, she was guided by a clear ethical compass. She paid the highest price for her disagreement with unethical scientific research and the use of male research for death-dealing activities. For us, remembering her and what she did is part of our university identity. I believe that it is our duty to popularise knowledge about her, her achievements and her ethical attitude,” explains the co-founder and at the same time the university’s rector, Prof. Przemysław Wiszewski.

She was born in Wojczyce (Polkendorf) near Środa Śląska on 21 June 1870. But many people remember mainly her tragic, suicidal death on 2 May 1915, when she committed suicide in protest against the chemical experiments of her husband, the Nobel Prize winner from Wrocław, Fritz Haber, the inventor of the deadly gas.

This is why the foundation wrote in its statutes: “Clara Immerwahr in 1900, despite many adversities, became the first woman PhD holder at the University of Breslau. Her scientific career, parallel to the achievements of her husband, Fritz Haber, was filled with the pursuit of truth. However, in contrast to the Nobel Prize winner, she also adhered to values such as goodness and beauty. An ethical dilemma caused by the research involving war gases and their use on the battlefield led her to take a dramatic step. She manifested her values by taking her own life. Her courage, invincibility and fidelity to these values inspire the foundation’s work.”

She received her PhD degree at the age of 30, on 22 December 1900, as the first woman at the University of Wrocław. Since childhood, she had wanted to be a chemist … and she was a sensation – provoking derision from men who criticised her presence at the university. What is more, when she received her doctorate and graduated magna cum laude from the university, she could only work as a lab technician.

– A tragic figure, uncompromising in her opposition to science having to do with violence or war. This is exactly the kind of values we will be trying to implement here, but in a very modern, inspiring and perhaps sometimes also joyful way,” says Dr. Kamila Kamińska-Sztark, Vice-President of the Foundation.

Although Fritz Haber married Clara after her PhD and they were the first “married couple of scientists” in Germany, he believed that a woman should take care of the house so that he could dedicate himself to science. He kept his wife out of his research, only allowing her to translate his publications into English. She was allowed to give public lectures on chemistry… in the household. Even then it was rumoured that the texts of the lectures were written by her husband.

“More than a century has passed since then and there is still much to be done,” admit the members of the newly established foundation. That is why the Clara Immerwahr University Foundation wants to support “women in science”, to level the playing field, to open up opportunities. The University of Wrocław is a university where female students are in the majority, although, for example, there are more men among the professors.

– These statistics show how much there is to be done. Our main goal is to support women and young girls in academia. We want to help equalise opportunities in academia, to support female colleagues who, for example, are raising children alone and at the same time are focusing on their academic careers. We also want to help those girls who have difficult access to university,” says Professor Patrycja Matusz, head of the Foundation.

Published by: Tomasz Sikora

8 Sep 2021

last modification: 8 Sep 2021