Although many women have achieved great accomplishments that are key to today’s modern research, they very often did not and still do not receive the same recognition as their male colleagues. This could be due to the traditional role allocation of males and females or due to the denied access to higher education for females in the earlier centuries. Nevertheless, many astonishing scientists evolved in the early years in Germany.
The most famous example of a great woman in science is 1098 born Hildegard of Bingen, also known as Saint Hildegard. She was a German Benedictine abbess, writer, composer, philosopher, visionary and polymath who is considered to be the founder of scientific natural history in Germany. Her teachings regarding the healing powers of different herbs and precious stones, which she used in the treatment of different diseases, were outstanding at the time and till today play an important role in naturopathy.
A further great German scientist was Maria Sibylla Merian. Born in 1647 in Frankfurt she evolved to become one of the world’s greatest naturalists and artist of her time. In 1699 she went on a two year expedition through South America’s coastal countries. Upon her returned to Europe, Maria published her most famous work ‘Metarmorphosis insectorum Surinamensium’, which made her one of the most important pioneers in entomology.
Another outstanding female academic was Dorothea Christiane Erxleben (1715-1762) who as a woman was denied access to study medicine at university in Germany for many years, despite having gathered great knowledge and insight due to her work experience at her father’s doctor’s practice. In 1741, Dorothea was finally granted the opportunity to study at the University of Halle and after the birth of her fourth child, commenced her PhD at the age of 39 and therewith in 1754 became the first German female with a doctorate. Since then several medicine schools, army barracks, study centers and streets have been named in her honour.
German physical chemist Agnes Pockels, born in 1862, became known through her research and discoveries in interface tension. She invented the ‘Schieberinne’ which until today is used to research surfaces and liquids. At first her research was disregarded, until in 1891 she shared her findings with the English physicist and Nobel Prize Winner John William Strutt, who published her work and therewith they both received a great amount of attention and recognition.
One of the leading biologists of our time is Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard, born 1942 in Heyrothsberge near Magdeburg. From 1985 to 2014 she was the head of the Genetic and Developmental Biology department at the Max-Planck-Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany. In 1995, Nüsslein-Volhard received the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine for her research on the genetic control of early embryonic development.
To honour these and many other astonishing female scientists and women all over the world, we celebrate the International Women’s Day on 8th March every year. This tradition started in 1908 when 15.000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter working hours, better pay and voting rights. In 1909 the first International Women’s Day (IWD) was observed across the United States. 100 women from 17 countries took part at the second IWD Conference in Copenhagen, where a woman called Clara Zetkin brought up the idea of an IWD. She announced that every year in every country there should be a Women’s Day to celebrate women and give them the opportunity to press for their demands. She said that: “The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.” Germany already took part in the first Woman’s Day in 1911 und up to today participates proudly.
All around the world the International Women’s Day is celebrated and represents unity, reflection, advocacy and action. Many events take place to unite women, e.g. the International Women’s Day Run in Berlin under this year’s motto #BeBoldForChange or the annual International Women’s Day Global Mentoring Walk in Johannesburg and Cape Town.