Female Role Models

Women in Natural Sciences and Technology

Name Profession Lived
Agnesi, Maria Gaetana Mathematician 1718-1799
Beese, Melli (Amelie Hedwig) Pilot 1886-1926
Cori, Gerty Theresa Biochemist 1896-1957
Cunitz, Maria Astronomer 1610-1664
Curie, Marie Physicist 1867-1934
Franklin, Rosalind Elsie Molecular biologist und biophysicist 1920-1958
Germain, Sophie Mathematician 1776-1831
Goeppert-Mayer, Maria Physicist 1906-1972
Haslett, Caroline Engineer 1895-1957
Herschel, Karoline Lucretia Astronomer 1750-1848
Crowfoot Hodgkin, Dorothy Chemist 1910-1994
Hopper, Grace Murray Mathematician 1906-1992
Joliot-Curie, Irène Physicist 1897-1956
Kowalewskaja, Sofia Mathematician 1850-1895
Lovelace, Ada Byron Programmer 1815-1850
Meitner, Lise Physicist 1878-1968
Merian, Maria Sibylla Naturalist and illustrator 1647-1717
Mitchell,Maria Astronomer 1818-1889
Noether, Emmy Mathematician 1882-1935
Swallow Richards, Ellen Chemist und ecologist 1842-1911
Schütte-Lihotzky, Margarete Pioneer of social housing 1897-2000
Timoféeff-Ressovsky, Elena Aleksandrovna Geneticist 1898-1973
Vogt, Cécile Physician 1875-1962

  • Planning and developing the poster exhibition

    In the year 2000, the team “Women’s aspects in the planning of the new university quarter of Lübeck” was founded. A new district, the so-called “university quarter”, was to be built in the south of the Hanseatic town of Lübeck, adjacent to the University and the University of Applied Sciences.

    In consequence, the University of Applied Sciences of Lübeck such as many other institutions was invited to propose appropriate persons from science and research for the naming of the university quarter to be constructed. At the end of the year 2001, a resolution of the City Parliament finally established the fact that the streets of the new university quarter would be named after 14 women from science and research.

    This gave the impetus to conceive a poster exhibition which was to present exactly these selected women. In addition to the 14 women chosen by the Lübeck City Parliament, we selected 3 Nobel prize winners with 4 awards in physics and chemistry as well as further important and interesting female pioneers in the fields of natural sciences and technology. The resulting poster exhibition is not complete by any means. Up to now, women from Asia or South America are missing, for example. It is rather a persisting aim to shorten the list of unknown women by broadening the poster exhibition.

  • Why this poster exhibition? – Women with a role model function

    It is an original area of responsibility of the equal opportunity commissioner/women’s representative to inspire young women for technology. But unfortunately, historical or present role models are often missing.

    The poster exhibition does not only illuminate the women themselves but also the basic conditions under which they lived and worked. The access to higher school education und studies was often not only made more difficult for girls and women, but was often officially refused to them. 

    During the research for this exhibition, we noticed that it is indeed not so easy to find suitable material, also in the form of pictures, for corresponding posters. Even in the “Encyclopaedia of famous women” by Luise Pusch, the section of female scientists is clearly under-represented.

    We know from the past, however, that role models have a great effect. In the year 1910, the Radium Institute was founded in Vienna on the basis of private donations (as an institute of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the University of Vienna). At first, Stefan Meier was responsible for the leadership of this institute. Between the foundation of the institute and the year 1945, more than 70 women worked there (employees and freelancers). This corresponds to a women’s proportion of 22-57% at the institute. What was the reason for such a high women’s proportion just at that time?

    Among others, the following reasons may certainly be made out: As the director of the institute, Stefan Meier actively promoted women. Already in 1906, for example, he encouraged Lise Meitner, after she had received her PhD, to deal with research on radioactivity. Besides this, there was also a strong female role model in this research area: In 1911, Marie Curie received her second Nobel prize for her discovery of radium. Again and again, role models are important for the establishment of an identity, and especially in the technical field, we cannot get enough role models for young women.

    Finally, we would like to give an example for this opinion: In 1897, a survey was held among university teachers with the following question: "Which reasons are in favour or against academic studies of women?" The following answers are documented: Max Planck (at that time director of the Institute for Theoretical Physics of the University of Berlin): "Amazons are against nature also in the intellectual field […]. In general, however, it cannot be emphasized enough that nature itself dictated the women their profession as a mother and housewife […]".

    Wilhelm Ostwald, who received the Nobel prize for chemistry in 1908, also regards the triple form of wife, housewife and mother as the professional and life destination of a woman. He emphasizes that the satisfaction resulting from this activity "[…] is purer and stronger than it might be through any kind of scientific discovery […]".

    Well, many women saw and see their situation differently. The biochemist Gerti Theresa Cori: "The love of work and the devotion to it seems to me the basis of happiness."


Many thanks above all to Susan Bodendörfer and Maysun Kellow for their patience in the creative chaos, to Beate Meier for the always quick practical appliance of ideas, Monika Hansen for translation and editing, and the Technische Hochschule Lübeck for the promotion of this project.

Idea and Concept

Katrin Molge, equal opportunity commissioner
Technische Hochschule Lübeck
Mönkhofer Weg 239
23562 Lübeck
Tel. +49 451 300 5255
E-Mail: molge(at)fh-luebeck.de

Design and Production

Bodendörfer und Kellow, Lübeck
Graphical Design, Media Production
E-Mail: info(at)bo-ke.de