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Gendering the Study of Germanophone Refugee Classicists

Judith P. Hallett

This paper draws and builds on Hans-Peter Obermayer’s monumental study of German refugee scholars in American exile (2014) by considering the difficulties encountered by Jewish women classical scholars who fled to the US from Nazi-occupied Europe. While Obermayer’s book devotes considerable space to two female classical archaeologists, Margarete Bieber and Elisabeth Jastrow, he does not closely examine the careers of three women philologists who also figure in his volume: Eva (Lehmann) Fiesel (1891-1937); Vera Lachmann (1904-1985); and Gabrielle Schoepflich Hoeningswald (1912-2001). I would like to accord all three the special attention that they and their achievements merit.

 In adopting a gendered perspective on the study of refugee classicists from Germanophone Europe, I will also consider the role played by faculty at US women’s colleges—which had no equivalent in Germany or Austria—in finding employment for, and generally aiding, both male and female classicists in exile. I will address as well the distinctive challenges faced by those of us engaged in research into the lives of these women refugee scholars. To be sure, they benefitted from many of the same intellectual opportunities as their male counterparts in the co-educational German university system. Hoenigswald, for example, studied under Wilamowitz and Norden in Berlin; both she and her teacher Fiesel initially found academic refuge from the Nazis with fellow classical scholars who fled to Italy. But their professional experiences on our shores differed strikingly from those of their male counterparts, necessitating that we rely on different kinds of evidence, and employ different standards of assessment, in documenting what they accomplished.

Fiesel, an accomplished Etruscologist, Privatdozent in Munich from 1931 to 1933, and a divorced single mother, only succeeded in obtaining work at Yale as a research assistant to its professor of classical linguistics (whereas New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts offered her younger brother, Karl Lehmann-Hartleben, a professorship that same year). Yet not long before her untimely death, she obtained a visiting position at the all-female Bryn Mawr College, which made serious efforts to support refugee classicists. Fiesel’s daughter Ruth, a Bryn Mawr graduate who taught Latin at secondary schools in Baltimore and Philadelphia, merits recognition among her mother’s accomplishments.

From 1933 to 1939, Lachmann, who earned her PhD from Berlin after studies at Basel, ran her own school for German Jewish children denied a public education by the Nazis, and saw many of them to safety abroad before emigrating to the US in 1939. Finding employment in the classics department at Brooklyn College after a series of temporary positions, she enjoyed a long and influential teaching career there. While she maintained close ties with such male refugee classicists as Friedrich Solmsen and Eduard Fraenkel, Lachmann foreswore the world of scholarly research, publishing instead an esteemed body of German poetry, and running a classically-themed summer camp for boys in North Carolina with her female life-partner.

Upon arriving in the US Hoeningswald also benefited from the scholarly hospitality of Bryn Mawr College. But she never occupied a full-time, tenured academic position. Rather, in 1944 she married a fellow German-Jewish émigré, Henry Hoenigswald, a professor of classical linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. With the birth of their daughters, she pursued her vocation by holding temporary appointments at a variety of Philadelphia-area colleges and universities, publishing occasional articles, and keeping current with classical scholarship in a range of areas by regularly attending lectures and conferences.

Session/Panel Title:

German and Austrian Refugee Classicists: New Testimonies, New Perspectives

Session/Paper Number

15.3

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