Thursday, February 12, 2015

Women Power

In the winter of 2012/2013, Red Baron attended a series of public lectures on Freiburg's Mediaeval history titled Auf Jahr und Tag (In the year, on the day). I reported about the presentation of the proceedings, the book with all the papers given.

The lectures about Freiburg's early history were such success that during this winter term the organizing institutes are presenting another series about events linked to particular dates in Freiburg's modern history.

The lecture series started in November last year with the date May 24, 1525, when revolting farmers occupied the city and will end in March of this year with a lecture about November 11, 1948, when the city council approved the plans for the reconstruction of Freiburg that had been destroyed four years earlier in an air raid on November 27, 1944, another of those key dates.

Last Monday Dr. Ute Scherb talked about:

©Ute Scherb
On February 28, 1900, Ash Wednesday, Freiburg's university opened its gates to female students. Before that date, women had been tolerated as Gaststudenten (auditors) in some university lectures* but without the possibility of acquiring an academic degree.
*As early as 1790 when Freiburg's society ladies  stormed Georg Jacobi's university courses

The square in front of the main building of Freiburg's university, in its original shape,
during the Gründerzeit seen from the site of the new university library.
To the right the building of the old library and a female student.
Until last year a four-lane street running in the front divided Freiburg's city.
Since the traffic was banned on August 27, 2012, the old campus of 1900 will become
the new university campus once the construction work in the area is finished (©Ute Scherb).
In the 19th century, Switzerland was more advanced in the education of women than Germany. The first female high school fulfilling the matriculation standards was opened in Switzerland in 1860, so the University of Zürich accepted female students starting in 1866. With all this progressiveness, nobody in the audience could explain the irony why women in Switzerland got the right to vote only in 1971, whereas in Germany women's suffrage was introduced in 1919.

The first high school for girls in Baden was opened in Karlsruhe in 1893. Subsequently, around 1900, the first female graduates claimed their right to university education. The opposition in Germany to female university students was considerable. In 1876 the professor for Catholic theology in Freiburg Alban Stolz had pointed out the direction: The female sex is weaker, both physically and intellectually. Should I mention here that as a fundamentalist Stolz was an outspoken anti-Semite too?

When the decree of the Baden Ministry of Education, granting female students the right to enroll in Freiburg's university, arrived in the city on February 28, 1900, suddenly all doors opened. Freiburg's first female student was Johanna Kappes, a graduate from Karlsruhe's high school. She enrolled in the medical faculty, finished her studies successfully, and left Freiburg University with a doctor's degree in medicine. At that time educated wealthy citizens (Bildungs- und Besitzbürger) were the driving forces. In the beginning, female students frequently had their chaperones with them, protecting them in a male university world.

Today there are more female than male university students in Germany. Women, although generally finishing their education with better exams than men, they still face discrimination concerning higher positions. Nevertheless, during his professional life, Red Baron had among all the males two female bosses. I remembered my excellent experience when I later had to choose applicants on selection boards for jobs at CERN. Besides I was impressed by the generally better education of female candidates compared with their male competitors.

When in 2009 saying good-bye to my successor at CERN I was happy to learn that a female scientist I once had recruited was taking over. This must have been some sort of initial spark: In November 2014 CERN Council elected its first female Director-General: Fabiola Gianotti.

CERN's new and "old" DG (©CERN)

More women power

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen at the Security Conference in Munich on February 6, 2015, on the war in eastern Ukraine: Es gibt in der Ukraine schon zu viele Waffen (There are already too many weapons in Ukraine).

Chancellor Angela Merkel following her visit to the US at a joint press conference with President Obama in the White House on February 9, 2015, on the war in East Ukraine: Wir setzen weiter auf eine diplomatische Lösung. Eine militärische Lösung sehe ich nicht (We continue to count on a diplomatic solution. I don't see any military solution).

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