Partner Mentona Moser and Pauline Bindschedler
Kreuzstrasse 44, 8008 Zürich, Switzerland
University of Zurich, Rämistrasse 71, 8006 Zürich, Switzerland
Clara Willdenow (8 October 1856–4 July 1931) was one of the first German women to attain a medical degree, though because she was denied study in her own country, she earned her degree in Switzerland. Opening a private gynaecology clinic, she operated it for more than two decades. Willdenow was openly lesbian and did not attempt to hide her orientation.
Clara Willdenow was born on 8 October 1856 in Bonn, Kingdom of Prussia. Her father, Karl Willdenow is sometimes styled as a pedagogist from Berlin, at others as a privy councilor from Breslau and at others a curator at the University of Bonn. Her great-grandfather was the botanist Carl Ludwig Willdenow. She was privately educated until completing her Abitur and then enrolled in 1884 at the medical school at Zurich University. At the time, German universities refused to admit women. Studying in Zurich until 1887, after passing her Propaedeutic Examinations she went on to further her education at Bern, with a specialty in pediatrics. While she was still a student, she met Friedrich Nietzsche and belonged to his circle, which included Agnes Bluhm, Eva Corell, Meta von Salis, and Resa von Schirnhofer. She was awarded a degree in 1893, becoming one of the few German women granted a medical degree prior to 1900.
Willdenow conducted laboratory work under Edmund Drechsel, the noted chemist. She studied the milk protein casein and conducted research into the inorganic salts of lysine in the 1890s. In 1894, she opened a private gynaecological practice in the Seefield district of Zurich, which she operated until 1923. She was known for her explicit relationships with women and was likely exclusively lesbian. Between 1904 and 1909, she was the lover of Mentona Moser and then for thirty-one years had a relationship with Pauline Bindschedler. The word lesbian was not in common use at the time, but in describing their relationship, Moser specifically called it "lesbian love".
In 1900, Willdenow and other doctors signed a petition asking the Federal Council to accept examination results for Swiss universities as prerequisites for the German examinations. Though in 1899, German law changed and allowed women to participate in the medical profession, the application of the law was varied among the German states. Willdenow later volunteered as a doctor in a Berlin clinic. She died on 4 July 1931 in Zurich.
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