Clara Immerwahr

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Clara Immerwahr
Clara Immerwahr.jpg
Clara Immerwahr (1870–1915)
Born (1870-06-21)21 June 1870
Polkendorf near Breslau, Silesia Province, Kingdom of Prussia (present-day Poland)
Died 2 May 1915(1915-05-02) (aged 44)
Berlin-Dahlem, German Empire
Residence Germany
Nationality German
Fields Chemistry
Alma mater University of Breslau
Doctoral advisor Richard Abegg

Clara Immerwahr (21 June 1870 – 2 May 1915) was a German chemist.[1] She was the first woman to be awarded a doctorate in chemistry in Germany. She was also an active women's rights activist.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Immerwahr was born on the Polkendorff Farm near Breslau, the youngest daughter of Jewish parents, chemist Philipp Immerwahr and his wife Anna (née Krohn). She grew up on the farm with her three older siblings, Elli, Rose and Paul. In 1890, her mother died of cancer and while Elli and her husband Siegfried stayed at the farm, Clara moved with her father to Breslau.[3]

Immerwahr studied at the University of Breslau, in 1900 attaining her degree and a Ph.D. in chemistry under Richard Abegg.[4] Her dissertation was entitled Beiträge zur Löslichkeitsbestimmung schwerlöslicher Salze des Quecksilbers, Kupfers, Bleis, Cadmiums und Zinks (Contributions to the Solubility of Slightly Soluble Salts of Mercury, Copper, Lead, Cadmium, and Zinc). She was the first woman Ph.D. at the University of Breslau [5] and received the designation magna cum laude.[6]

Marriage and work[edit]

Immerwahr married Fritz Haber in 1901, four years after she had converted to Christianity in 1897.[7][8]

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. On June 1, 1902 she gave birth to Hermann Haber (1902–1946) the only child of that marriage.[9]

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.[5][10]

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 a weapon of mass destruction in military history, in Flanders, Belgium on 22 April 1915.


The grave of Fritz and Clara Haber, Hörnli graveyard, near Basel, Switzerland

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 left to stage the first gas attack against the Russians on the Eastern Front.[11][12] Her suicide remained largely in the dark. Six days after her death, only the small local newspaper Grunewald-Zeitung reported that "the wife of Dr. H. in Dahlem, who is currently on the front, has set an end to her life by shooting herself. The reasons for this act of the unhappy woman are unknown."[13][14] There is no evidence of an autopsy. The almost undocumented nature of her death has led to much discussion and sometimes controversy as to her motives. The short film Haber, written and directed by Daniel Ragussis, attempts to explore some of the issues in the couple's relationship.[15]

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.[10][16] 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).[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Carty, Ryan (2012). "Casualty of War". Chemical Heritage Magazine 30 (2). Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  2. ^ Germans rediscover First World War heroine in new TV drama The Telegraph, 29 May 2014
  3. ^ Clara Immerwahr profile,; accessed 27 April 2015.
  4. ^ Freemantle, Michael (2014). The Chemists' War: 1914-1918. Royal Society of Chemistry. ISBN 9781849739894. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  5. ^ a b Cornwell, John (2003). Hitler's Scientists, Science, War and the Devil's Pact. Penguin Press. p. 49. ISBN 0-14-200480-4. 
  6. ^ Hoffmann, Frederick and Kremers, Edward (1901). Pharmaceutical Review, Volume 19. Pharmaceutical Review Publishing Company. p. 137. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  7. ^ King, Gilbert (6 June 2012). "Fritz Haber’s Experiments in Life and Death". 
  8. ^ Stern, Fritz (2001). Einstein's German world (5. print., and 1. pbk. print. ed.). Princeton, NJ [u.a.]: Princeton Univ. Press. p. 77. ISBN 9780691074580. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 
  9. ^ Stoltzenberg, Dietrich (2004). Fritz Haber : chemist, nobel laureate, german, jew. Philadelphia: Chemical Heritage Foundation. p. 50. ISBN 978-0941901246. 
  10. ^ a b Stoltzenberg, Dietrich (1998). Fritz Haber: Chemiker, Nobelpreisträger, Deutscher, Jude: eine Biographie. Weinheim. 
  11. ^ Cornwell, John (2003). Hitler's Scientists, Science, War and the Devil's Pact. Penguin Press. p. 65. ISBN 0-14-200480-4. 
  12. ^ Stoltzenberg, Dietrich (1998). Fritz Haber: Chemiker, Nobelpreisträger, Deutscher, Jude: eine Biographie. Weinheim. p. 356. 
  13. ^ "Clara Immerwahr, verh. Haber". FemBio. Retrieved 12 October 2015. 
  14. ^ Dick, Jutta (1 March 2009). "Clara Immerwahr". Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia (Online ed.). Jewish Women's Archive. Retrieved 12 October 2015. 
  15. ^ Meyer, Michal (2010). "Feeding a War". Chemical Heritage Magazine 28 (1). Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  16. ^ H.P. Albarelli, A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA's Secret Cold War Experiments, July 1, 2009; ISBN 0-9777953-7-3, pg 37.
  17. ^ "Lutz F. Haber (1921–2004)" (PDF). University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Retrieved 27 October 2015. 

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