Baroness Dorothea von Rodde-Schlözer – Philosopher and Salonnière

Dorothea von Rodde-Schlözer,

Dorothea Schlözer (1770 bis 1825), Painting by Benita Seeburger See, photo: Frank Stefan Kimmel (März 2009)

On August 10, 1770, German philosopher and salonnière Baroness Dorothea von Rodde-Schlözer was born. She belonged to the group of 18th century Göttingen scholar-daughters known as “university mamselles” and was the second women in Germany to officially earn a doctorate.

Dorothea Schlözer – Youth and Education

Dorothea Schlözer was the daughter of August Ludwig von Schlözer, a Göttingen professor of constitutional law and history, and Caroline Friederike von Schlözer (née Roederer), a painter and embroiderer. She learned to write at the age of four and one year later began to study geometry, French and Latin. At the age of sixteen she mastered ten languages. Fiction and poetry were excluded from her lessons; only Aeneid was allowed to be read as a historical work. The artistic lessons consisted of drawing and music. “My Dortgen played the piano in public at a concert as early as 1778; last year she sang publicly at our university concert,” her father proudly noted. Her father’s views and educational methods found little understanding in the Göttingen environment.

Travel to Rome

In 1781/1782 Dorothea was allowed to accompany her father on a study trip to Rome. There they made the acquaintance of writer, scholar, and librarian Wilhelm Heinse, the poet of Ardinghello. With this work, 30 years before the publication of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe‘s Italian Journey, he opened up a new view of Italy for German readers: the Renaissance was considered equal to Roman antiquity. However, Heinse was delighted to make the travel guide for 11-year-old Dorothea, although her father didn’t seem to be very happy about.

Doctor of Philosophy

On the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of the University of Göttingen, on 17 September 1787, Dorothea earned her PhD at age 17 with the grade “rite” (i.e. with the lowest possible grade). This doctoral procedure was initiated by Johann David Michaelis., a famous theologian and orientalist in the time of the Enlightenment. It included a non-public examination in German (not Latin), without presentation of a dissertation and its defence. The doctoral examination was held on August 25th in the Michaelishaus, the house of the Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy, by eight professors over 3½ hours and covered the fields of classical literature (Horace), mining, architecture and mathematics. Dorothea von Schlözer was thus the second woman after Dorothea Christiane Erxleben to receive her doctorate in Germany.[1] In a letter to Körner, Friedrich Schiller described the doctorate as “Schlözer’s farce with his daughter, who is quite pathetic“.[2]

Love Triangle

Together with her father, Dorothea von Schlözer wrote a textbook on the history of coins, money and mining in the Russian Empire in the 18th century, which was published by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht in Göttingen in 1791. In 1792 Dorothea Schlözer married baron Mattheus Rodde in Lübeck and had three children. After the birth of her first child she met Charles de Villers in Göttingen in 1794, a French philosopher and artillery officer in exile. From July 1797 he became a permanent guest of the Roddes, the triangular relationship only ended with Villers death in 1815. During the plundering of Lübeck by Napoleon’s troops in November 1806, Villers succeeded in preventing worse for the house and the town. He describes these events in detail in his letter to Fanny de Beauharnais, a French salonnière close to Napoleon. The letter was published and the plundering of Lübeck became known throughout Europe and aroused sympathy.


In the years after Viler’s death, Dorothea Schlözer ran an enlightened salon in Lübeck, but also kept in touch with intellectual circles in the neighbouring royal seat Eutin, at that time the “Weimar of the North”. Among her friends there were Johann Heinrich Voss,[3] Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi and Friedrich Leopold Graf zu Stolberg. In 1801 Schlözer travelled to Paris in connection with a diplomatic mission of her husband. Above all, however, she sought contact with French scholars and scientists, who honoured her by letting Schlözer attend a meeting of the First Class of the National Institute, where she was allowed to take a seat in the seat of the First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, whom they had already seen in a theatre performance in July. She made the acquaintance of the naturalist Lacépède, the geologist Dolomieu and the philologist Fauriel, among others.

Marble Portrait bust of Dr. Dorothea von Rodde-Schlözer, by Jean-Antoine Houdon: Paris 1806

Marble Portrait bust of Dr. Dorothea von Rodde-Schlözer, by Jean-Antoine Houdon: Paris 1806

Paris again and Bankruptcy

A second time Rodde was sent on a diplomatic mission and again Schlözer and Villers also went to Paris, this time from 1803 to 1805; this time Dorothea was introduced to the imperial couple and Empress Joséphine was particularly interested in “Le Docteur” Rodde as she was in the salon of her aunt, the poet Fanny de Beauharnais. In September 1809 Schlözer’s father died and to settle the inheritance Schlözer travelled to Göttingen for a longer period in the spring of 1810. In September she received news of her husband’s bankruptcy there from Lübeck, who had lost track of the extensive credit business he was conducting. In the end, the debts amounted to an enormous 2.7 million marks Courant. For Schlözer, there was now the danger that she herself would lose everything, including her father’s inheritance, as under Lübeck customary law, the wife could be fully claimed for her husband’s debts. With the help of Villers, she averted proceedings.

Last Years

Her last years were overshadowed by infirmity and death: After the bankruptcy, her husband aged quickly, became deaf, childish and a foster parent, which put a considerable strain on his environment. Villers died in 1815, on 13 October 1820 Dorothea’s eldest daughter Augusta succumbed to consumption, and on 29 April 1821 her only son August Ludwig, also died of consumption. Then the youngest daughter Dorothea, called Dortchen, also fell ill. For the cure a journey to the south was recommended, one went to Marseille, which one found sensitively cold in December. On 12 June, one left Marseille. Dorothea was already ill at this time. In Avignon a further journey with the sick woman was then not possible. On 12 July 1825 Dorothea Baroness of Rodde died of pneumonia at age 55.

Since 2009, the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen has been supporting women scientists and scholars within the framework of the Dorothea Schlözer Programme. Since 1958, the Dorothea Schlözer Medal has been awarded to women who are committed to science and women’s education.

Academic English – Practise your lecture skills with Dr Fara’s lecture on Women in Science, [7]

References and Further Reading:

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