Colleagues organize

In the German states, women were admitted for the first time to study medicine between 1900 and 1909. the Association of German Medical Women was only founded in 1924 following a suggestion from abroad. It was not for political purposes concerning their professional group that the association was founded. Medical women had always avoided open disputes with their powerful male colleagues and rather endeavored to be accepted by them. “Under no circumstances” did they intend “to fight our male colleagues”. Only over the years, steps were taken to stand up for the interests of women in a more assertive manner. Historical milestones on a long road:

1923/1924 – the Foundation

The foundation of the Association of German Medical Women (BDÄ) was initiated following an offer to German medical women to join the Medical Women’s International Association. This offer led to the following appeal letter sent by the Berlin gynecologist Hermine Heusler-Edenhuizen, physician Lilly Meyer-Vedell, pediatrician Laura Turnau, the Dresden gynecologist Dorothea Dietrich and the Essen gynecologist Toni von Langsdorff:

“A group of German medical women has assembled in Berlin to found an association of German medical women. The tasks of the association shall be:
  1. association of Germany’s medical women
  2. dealing with socio-hygienic matters from the viewpoint of the medical doctor being a women
  3. working on suggestions for socio-hygienic legislation
  4. caring for older female colleagues who are no longer able to work and supporting young medical women with their training and further education efforts”.
The constituent assembly took place in Berlin on 25 October 1924, by which time 280 medical women had joined the association – corresponding to 12 percent of 2.500 German medical women.

1924 – First issue of “Medical Women”

From May 1924 to these days BDÄ has been publishing the association’s journal “Medical Women”. The first issue contained “as the mother complements the stricter approach of the father of the family with her beautiful harmony, we would like to achieve a situation whereby the so far exclusive male principle will be balanced by a more extensive involvement of motherly women in areas which require a female touch and in professions which are particularly suited to a motherly attitude, such as the profession of a medical women; and we do not want her to copy the male approach, but for her to find her own course. With the same knowledge and skills she will then provide what is missing in the work of a man”.

1933 – Forcing into line executed

900 colleagues had joined by 1933 – more than a quarter of the German medical women. Following the takeover by the Nazi regime, BDÄ was ordered to dissolve itself or to execute the forcing into line. This meant:
  • Express declaration of belief in the objectives of the NSDAP and its leader Adolf Hitler
  • “Removal of Jews and Marxists” from the boards
BDÄ opted for the forcing into line alternative and consequently was excluded from the Medical Women’s International Association (MWIA). All colleagues of Jewish origin, among them Else Liefmann, Lilly Meyer-Vedell and TLaura Turnau, i.e. three of the six founding members, had already been excluded by the end of June 1933.

1936 – Complete Dissolution

Due to the Third Reich’s Medical Doctor Rules, the Association of German Medical Women was forced to be dissolved.

1939 - 1945 – World War II

During wartime the destiny of most former BDÄ members was decided upon. Many Jewish members ended up in concentration camps or in exile, where most of the medical women were not allowed to practice their profession. To the best of our knowlde3ge, members of the dissolved association continued to regularly meet in Hannover or Dortmund.

1946-1950 – New Foundation of the German Medical Women’s Association

The “Hannoversche Ärztinnengruppe” (Hannover Group of Medical Women) was founded in 1946. For political reasons no groups existed in the Soviet occupied zone which later became the GDR. On 9th June 1947, medical women who intended to set up practice as a doctor founded the “Bayerische Ärztinnenbund e.V.” (Bavarian Medical Women’s Association) – as a “combat organization”. In those days, women experienced disadvantages, in particular when they wanted to set up practice for the treatment of members of statutory health insurance schemes. Single medical women were denied registration because they had no family. Married medical women were denied registration because their husbands’ income was taken into account. Following extensive preparations, during which period membership figures rose beyond 1.200 medical women have been organized nationwide again since 1950. To this day, the German Medical Women’s Association provides a platform and a mouthpiece for colleagues’ interests.

Dr. Astrid Bühren in: Festschrift 85 Years of the German Medical Women’s Association (2009)
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