Clara Immerwahr (1870–1915)
June 21, 1870|
Polkendorf near Breslau, Silesia Province, Kingdom of Prussia, today Poland
|Died||May 2, 1915
Berlin-Dahlem, German Empire
|Alma mater||University of Breslau|
|Doctoral advisor||Richard Abegg|
Clara Immerwahr (June 21, 1870 – May 2, 1915) was a German chemist. She was the first woman to earn her PhD in Germany, and was an active women's rights activist. She was married to fellow chemist Fritz Haber.
Early life and education
Clara Immerwahr was the youngest daughter of chemist Philipp Immerwahr and his wife Anna Krohn. Immerwahr studied at the University of Breslau, in 1900 attaining her degree and a Ph.D. in chemistry under Richard Abegg. Her dissertation was entitled Beiträge zur Löslichkeitsbestimmung schwerlöslicher Salze des Quecksilbers, Kupfers, Bleis, Cadmiums und Zinks (Contributions to the Solubility of the Slightly Soluble Salts of Mercury, Copper, Lead, Cadmium, and Zinc). She was the first woman Ph.D. at the University of Breslau  and received the designation magna cum laude.
Marriage and work
Due to societal expectations that a married woman's place was in the home, her ability to conduct research was limited. She instead contributed to her husband's work without recognition, translating his works into English. In 1902 she gave birth to Hermann Haber (1902–1946) the only child of that marriage.
Confiding in a friend, Immerwahr bemoaned her subservient role:
It has always been my attitude that a life has only been worth living if one has made full use of all one's abilities and tried to live out every kind of experience human life has to offer. It was under that impulse, among other things, that I decided to get married at that time... The life I got from it was very brief...and the main reasons for that was Fritz's oppressive way of putting himself first in our home and marriage, so that a less ruthlessly self-assertive personality was simply destroyed.
During World War I, Haber became a staunch supporter of the German military effort and played an important role in the development of chemical weapons (particularly poison gases). His efforts would culminate in his supervision of the first successful deployment of what is nowadays considered as a weapon of mass destruction in military history, in Flanders, Belgium on April 22, 1915.
Shortly after Haber's return from Belgium, Immerwahr, who was a pacifist, and was troubled by Haber's work on chemical weapons, shot herself in the chest using Haber's military pistol. She died in her son's arms on 2 May. The morning after her death, Haber immediately left home to stage the first gas attack against the Russians on the Eastern Front. Her suicide remained largely in the dark. It was not in the newspapers and there is no evidence of an autopsy. The undocumented nature of her death has led to much controversy as to her motives.
Fritz Haber eventually fled the Nazis in Germany and died in Basel, Switzerland in 1934. His and Clara's ashes were buried together in a cemetery in Basel. Subsequently, their son Hermann Haber emigrated to the United States, where he committed suicide in 1946 because of his shame over his father's chemical warfare work. Ludwig ("Lutz") Fritz Haber (1921–2004), the son of Fritz Haber and his second wife, Charlotte, published a book on the history of poison gas, The Poisonous Cloud (1986).
- Cornwell, John (2003). Hitler's Scientists, Science, War and the Devil's Pact. Penguin Press. p. 49. ISBN 0-14-200480-4.
- Hoffmann, Frederick and Kremers, Edward (1901). Pharmaceutical Review, Volume 19. Pharmaceutical Review Publishing Company. p. 137.
- Stoltzenberg, Dietrich (1998). Fritz Haber: Chemiker, Nobelpreisträger, Deutscher, Jude: eine Biographie. Weinheim.
- Cornwell, John (2003). Hitler's Scientists, Science, War and the Devil's Pact. Penguin Press. p. 65. ISBN 0-14-200480-4.
- Stoltzenberg, Dietrich (1998). Fritz Haber: Chemiker, Nobelpreisträger, Deutscher, Jude: eine Biographie. Weinheim. p. 356.
- A Terrible Mistake:The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments A Terrible Mistake:The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments - H.P.Albarelli - July 1, 2009 - ISBN 0-9777953-7-3 - pg 37
- "Lutz F. Haber (1921–2004)". University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
- Short biography of Clara Haber (Immerwahr) at Doomed Engineers
- Clara Immerwahr Award launched by UniCat in 2011