The rocky road for female professors going into science

In 1908, Prussia was one of the last in Europe to introduce studies for women and to admit female lecturers. Other countries had already taken this step decades before. Medicine was the subject that most of the new female students chose to study, followed by the Humanities, in particular Art History. The opportunity to study by no means implied being able to pursue an academic career, however - doing so was long denied to women in Kiel. One particular exception to this was the archaeologist, Johanna Mestorf, who was the first Prussian woman to be awarded the title of honorary professor by Kiel University in 1899 and who, ten years later, was also awarded an honorary doctorate by the Faculty of Medicine. Female academics did not receive the general right to complete a postdoctoral lecture qualification (habilitation) until 1919.

At the end of the Weimar Republic the number of female lecturers at German universities reached its first peak, whereas women were consistently pushed back to their role as housewife and mother under National Socialism. When the male lecturers and teachers were sent to the Front during World War II, women often assumed the provisional management of many institutes, but were sent back to their positions as private lecturers or assistants after 1945. Up until the start of the 1960s Kiel’s professors were even able to exclude female students from their lectures without giving any further reasons why.

The first professorial appointment in Kiel was in 1966 for the lawyer, Hilde Kaufmann, who had taught Civil Law, Criminal Procedure Law and Criminology at the Christiana Albertina for four years. Antonie Wlosok followed in 1968 for Germanic Philology, and Ingeborg Leimberg two years after that for English Philology. Gertrud Savelsberg was appointed as an adjunct professor of Political Economics in 1944, the famous musician Anna Amalie Abert was not appointed until 1962, just like Katesa Schlosser, who was not able to take on the position of academic advisor and professor of Ethnology until two years later. Anni Meetz also taught for ten years as from 1959 in the same position for German Studies and Literary History. Annemarie Dührssen was awarded the title of honorary professor in 1965.

Although there was significant growth in the number of female academics throughout Germany from 1970 to 1975 as a result of university reform and the women’s movement, this development was not reflected in the number of female professors in Kiel. A constant increase in the number of female professors is only really noticeable in the decade before the turn of the millennium – between 1990 and the 1999/2000 winter semester, 34 women were appointed to corresponding academic positions at the CAU. In 1992 the university set up a women’s representative at each faculty - a sign that, as from this point in time, the problem of women being under-represented in academia was finally being perceived in Kiel, too.

Even if working towards increasing the number of women in science and academia is firmly anchored in the Schleswig-Holstein Higher Education Act (HSG), the CAU still lagged behind in a national comparison in 2015. Whereas the Federal Statistical Office calculated an average proportion of female professors at Germany’s universities of 20.4 percent in 2012, Kiel University is currently only at 16.6 percent. And that is even though there was not only a majority of female students at 53.4 percent in the 2014 examination year, but considerably more female students graduated (57.8 percent) than their male counterparts. Even if almost half of all doctoral theses at Kiel University are submitted by women, the proportion of those completing a postdoctoral lecture qualification (Habilitation) sinks to around a quarter.

The highest rate of female professors was recorded in 2015 at the Faculty of Arts and Humanities (22.4%). The lowest was at the Faculty of Agricultural and Nutritional Sciences (where only 2 out of 26 professors were female). The university’s Equality Plan therefore aimed for at least 20% of W2 and W3 professorships to be female by 2016. The number of women amongst research staff at the CAU, in any case, is generally increasing - in 2002 it was only 30%, whereas meanwhile 41.4% of the research staff is female.

Author: Ricarda Richter