Erdmann, Rhoda

Abstract

Rhoda Erdmann was one of the pioneer women in university Science in Europe. Based on regular university studies she earned a doctoral degree in biology at Munich in 1908. Continuing research on protozoa at Berlin, she was invited by the Yale University, USA, in 1913 and became a faculty member (1915–1918). During World War I she lost this position, but could not return to Germany before 1919. In spite of obstacles she established the first department for experimental cell research at Berlin University in 1919 and published the first German textbook for ‘explantation’ and tissue culture in 1922. Two habilitations (in biology 1920, in medicine 1923) enabled her together with her scientific school to develop studies of tissue culture fundamental for biological and medical research. Owing to her international reputation she found the journal for experimental cell research in 1925 and international congress for cytologists in 1930. Her activities were ended by the National Socialists’ coming into power in 1933, when the laboratory work was interdicted to her.

Key Concepts:

  • After having stated the principal morphological parts of animal and human cells until around 1900, it became an aim of biology to search for their physiological qualities and significance for the life processes.

  • Biologists expected new insights into elementary life processes by studying reproduction states and conditions of protozoa, that is, single‐celled organisms, at the beginning of the twentieth century.

  • Special methods of tissue culture and single cell cultivation became fundamental for research in many biological and medical fields from the beginning of the twentieth century onwards.

  • The following new institutions and publications are fundamental for the development of a new research area: establishing a special institute for research and teaching, founding an organ to publish research results and conferences for international exchange, intensifying teaching by a textbook for students and young scholars.

  • International contacts further not only the individual scientific work and career of a scientist, but support also the development of a new branch of science.

  • Different political and social systems of the countries of former Germany impeded the integration of women within the higher education and university system until the first decades of the twentieth century.

  • The life and career of R. Erdmann shows clearly, how much the development of the scientific work and the personal career of a woman was hindered in former Germany by a defective and inadequate support from the side of people responsible for the education of the youth and also for the advancement of science.

Keywords: tissue culture; explantation; transplantation; nutrient medium; cell‐types; cell‐organelles; chicken plasma

Figure 1.

Portrait of R Erdmann (c. 1926); Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Bildarchiv; original portrait taken by the Berlin photographer Alexander Binder (1888–1929), published in: Erdmann, .

Figure 2.

Title page of Erdmann's book ‘Praktikum der Gewebepflege oder Explantation, besonders der Gewebezüchtung’. Berlin: Julius Springer, 1922; photography by the Deutsches Museum Muenchen.

Figure 3.

Letter of R. Erdmann with her handwritten signature from the ‘Universitätsinstitut für experimentelle Zellforschung’ to the director of administration of the university hospital ‘Charité’ on her absence during the Congress in Cambridge, UK, in August 1933. Reproduced with permission from ‘Bibliothek der Humboldt‐Universität zu Berlin, Universitätsarchiv’, IV: UK‐Pers. E 84, Bd. 4, Bl. 9; photography by the author.

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References

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Further Reading

Bock U and Jank D (1990) Studierende, lehrende und forschende Frauen in Berlin (Ausstellungsführer der Universitätsbibliothek der FU Berlin, 20). Berlin: FU Berlin.

Galperin C, Gilbert SF and Hoppe B (eds) (1999) Fundamental Changes in Cellular Biology in the 20th Century (De Diversis Artibus, 43=N. S. 6). Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols.

Hoppe B (1999) Explantation in Early 20th Century Cytology: From Mechanistic to Organismic Concepts. In: Galperin C, Gilbert SF and Hoppe B (eds) Fundamental Changes in Cellular Biology in the 20th Century (De Diversis Artibus, 43=N. S. 6). pp. 29–38. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols.

Koch S (1985) Leben und Werk der Zellforscherin Rhoda Erdmann (1870–1935). Med. Diss: Universität Marburg.

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Brigitte, Hoppe(Aug 2012) Erdmann, Rhoda. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0023940]