Clara Immerwahr (1870–1915)
21 June 1870|
Polkendorf near Breslau, Silesia Province, Kingdom of Prussia (present-day Poland)
|Died||2 May 1915
Berlin-Dahlem, German Empire
|Cause of death||Suicide|
|Alma mater||University of Breslau|
|Doctoral advisor||Richard Abegg|
Clara Immerwahr (21 June 1870 – 2 May 1915) was a German chemist of Jewish descent. She was the first woman to be awarded a doctorate in chemistry in Germany, and is credited with being a pacifist as well as a women's rights activist. From 1901 until her suicide in 1915, she was married to the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Fritz Haber.
Early life and education
Immerwahr was born on the Polkendorff Farm near Breslau (then in eastern Prussia; now known as Wrocław, in western Poland). She was 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; while Elli and her husband Siegfried stayed at the farm, Clara moved with her father to Breslau.
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 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 some of his papers into English. On 1 June 1902 she gave birth to Hermann Haber (1902–1946) the only child of that marriage.
Confiding in a friend, Immerwahr expressed her deep dissatisfaction with this 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, Fritz 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.
Shortly after Haber's return from Belgium, Immerwahr shot herself in the chest using Haber's military pistol. She died in her son's arms on 2 May 1915. The morning after her death, Haber left to stage the first gas attack against the Russians on the Eastern Front.
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." There is no evidence of an autopsy. The poorly documented circumstances of her death have resulted in considerable discussion and controversy as to her reasons.
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. 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).
In drama and fiction
A number of works have been inspired to explore Fritz and Clara's relationship. The short film Haber, written and directed by Daniel Ragussis, attempts to examine some of the issues in the couple's relationship. The Habers also feature prominently in the novel A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell, where their characters are named Lenz and Iris Alter. Works such as The Greater Good (2008), directed by Celia de Wolff and written by Justin Hopper, portray Clara as deeply affected by her husband's research on gas warfare. Their lives are also portrayed in the American television series Genius.
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- "The Greater Good". Justin Hopper – Writer and Script Consultant. Archived from the original on 19 April 2017. Retrieved 18 April 2017.
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