Hedwig Kohn

One of only three women physicists certified to teach at the university level before WWII, Hedwig Kohn did research on measuring the intensity of light which was still cited by physicists over a decade after her death. Kohn began auditing courses at a university in Breslau in 1907, earned her doctorate there in 1913, and taught and advised students there during WWI. Her area of study was the precise measurement of light and radiation, from ultraviolet light to atomic and molecular spectroscopy. She contributed over 200 pages to a major physics textbook in 1929, Mueller-Pouillets Lehrbuch der Physik, which was still being cited into the 1970s. She was removed from her position in 1933 due to Nazi policies but continued to research, teach, and advise from a back room in the Physics Institute. Because of American immigration rules, she could only leave Germany if she had a guarantee of two years’ employment—difficult for a Jewish, female physicist. Finally, in 1940, colleagues overseas cobbled together three year-long teaching contracts that enabled her to emigrate. When her year-long term at Wellesley ended, she joined the regular faculty, remaining until her retirement in 1952, then continued her independent research at Duke University until her death.

Topics: Physics

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Physicist Hedwig Kohn in her office at Wellesly College, circa 1950, at about the time she received a research award.
Courtesy of Brenda Winnewisser.
Date of Birth


Date of Death
Physicist, Professor

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Jewish Women's Archive. "Hedwig Kohn ." (Viewed on January 28, 2020) <https://qa.jwa.org/people/kohn-hedwig>.


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