Dorothea Erxleben – Germany’s First Female Medical Doctor

Dorothea Christiane Erxleben

On November 13, 1715, Dorothea Christiane Erxleben, first female medical doctor in Germany was born. It was very hard for her to overcome the prejudices of the University professors and to finish her studies with a proper examination. What is even worse is that it should take until 1901 that the second woman in Germany was able to make her exams as a doctor.

Already Erxleben’s father was a doctor in Aschersleben, Germany. It is known that from early age, she showed much interest in nature science and that she proved to be quite smart. The director of her school was giving her Latin classes as a free time activity and her father and uncle taught her in theoretical and practical medicine as well as nature scientific topics. Dorothea Erxleben was educated almost in the same way her brother did and aimed at an academic degree. However, she was not accepted at the university and her father wrote a letter to Frederick the Great who then advised the University of Halle to admit the young student. Then however, Dorothea did not accept the offer. [1,2]

She began to practice medicine in her hometown, but was not welcomed due to the lack of a formal education and degree. As she was accused by many to be only an amateur scientist, she wrote a long letter explaining her situation and that it was a shame that women were not able to freely attend the university like men. She continued practicing in her father’s doctor’s office next to raising her four children. Unfortunately, a patient died during Erxleben’s treatment and she was again accused as a dilettante. She decided to catch up on her degree and went back to university. Her dissertation from 1755 was titled “Quod nimis cito ac iucunde curare saepius fiat causa minus tutae curationis” and was successful. [1,2]

Unfortunately, women were officially allowed to be examined in medicine and pharmaceutics only in 1899. In Halle, one department of the hospital was named after Erxleben and even a theater play was written for her. Dorothea Erxleben passed away on June 13, 1762. [1,2]

At yovisto, you may be interested in the lecture ‘On the History of Women in Science‘ by Professor Susanne Williams.

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