Rahel Hirsch

* 15.09.1870 (Frankfurt am Main) 06.10.1953 (London) Germany
Fields of activity: doctor
Author: Mona Willmann


„ Are women at all suited for the profession of a physician?“

(from Jewish Miniature 2005 )

Why I chose this woman:

She pursued her passion even without pay

Short introduction

Only four years after her death she was honoured according to her importance. She was accepted in the gallery of famous Jewish male and female scientists.

Curriculum vitae

Rahel Hirsch was born as daughter of Jewish parents. Her father was Mendel Hirsch, son of a famous rabbi of Frankfurt and her mother, Doris Ballin, was daughter of a well-known family of Hamburg. The grandfather of Rahel Hirsch, a progressive rabbi, was the founder of a girls’ secondary and high school in Frankfurt and preached for the first time in German.

His eldest son, Mendel, Rahel Hirsch’s father, taught as rabbi also in this school. He had with his wife eleven children, nine girls and two boys. Rahel was the sixth child and the fifth girl.

After final examination she studied pedagogy and worked as a teacher because at this time there was nearly no other possibility for studying.

Not satisfied with this profession she studied medicine in Zurich and Strasbourg, as at this time this was not possible in Germany.

She was happy in her life as medical researcher and never married.

Since 1913 she lived and worked as a physician in Berlin. The National Socialists took over in 1933 and in 1938, she emigrated to London.

She suffered from heavy depressions with hallucinations

and persecution mania and she lived in a mental hospital until her death. She died there 1953.

Professional cause of life

1903 she finished her medical studies obtaining her doctorate in Strasbourg.

As second woman she became assistant physician without salary in Berlin Charity. She was occupied most of all with research work. She studied the effect of the transition of starch grains from the bowels into the bladder, named after her the „Hirsch effect“.

In 1907 she could as first woman present the results of her research to her male colleagues in the Charity. But they were rejected by them. However that did not damage her medical reputation.

In 1908 she became director of a Polyclinic and was the first female professor in Prussia. As a woman, she did not get an assistant nor a professor’s chair, not even without a salary. Therefore she was forced into opening a general medical practice.

In 1938 she had to leave Berlin because she was not allowed to treat non-Jewish patients.

In London she lost her permission to work as physician, therefore she earned her living as a laboratory assistant and later as interpreter.