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Book Chapter

Clara Immerwahr: A life in the shadow of Fritz Haber


Friedrich,  Bretislav
Molecular Physics, Fritz Haber Institute, Max Planck Society;

Hoffmann,  Dieter
Department Structural Changes in Systems of Knowledge, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Max Planck Society;

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Friedrich, B., & Hoffmann, D. (2017). Clara Immerwahr: A life in the shadow of Fritz Haber. In B. Friedrich, D. Hoffmann, J. Renn, F. Schmaltz, & M. Wolf (Eds.), One Hundred Years of Chemical Warfare: Research, Deployment, Consequences (pp. 45-67). Cham: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-51664-6_4.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-002D-7FF9-2
We examine the life of Clara Haber, nee Immerwahr (1870–1915), including her tragic suicide and its possible relation to the involvement of her husband, Fritz Haber, in chemical warfare. Clara earned a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Breslau, in 1900, as the first woman ever, and married the physical chemist Fritz Haber within a year of her graduation. With no employment available for female scientists, Clara freelanced as an instructor in the continued education of women, mainly housewives, while struggling not to become a housewife herself. Her duties as the designated head of a posh household hardly brought fulfillment to her life. The outbreak of WWI further exacerbated the situation, as Fritz Haber applied himself in extraordinary ways to aid the German war effort, which included his initiative to develop chemical weapons. The night that he celebrated the “success” of the first chlorine cloud attack and his promotion to the rank of captain, Clara committed suicide. However, we found little evidence to support express claims that Clara was an outspoken pacifist who took her life because of her disapproval of her husband’s engagement in chemical warfare. We examine the origin of this “myth of Clara Immerwahr” that took root in the 1990s from the perspective offered by the available scholarly sources, including those that have only recently come to light.