Partner Mentona Moser and Pauline Bindschedler

Queer Places:
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.[1] Her father, Karl Willdenow is sometimes styled as a pedagogist from Berlin,[2] at others as a privy councilor from Breslau[1] and at others a curator at the University of Bonn. Her great-grandfather was the botanist Carl Ludwig Willdenow.[3] She was privately educated until completing her Abitur and then enrolled in 1884 at the medical school at Zurich University.[1] At the time, German universities refused to admit women.[4] Studying in Zurich until 1887,[1] after passing her Propaedeutic Examinations she went on to further her education at Bern, with a specialty in pediatrics.[1][3] 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.[5] She was awarded a degree in 1893,[1] becoming one of the few German women granted a medical degree prior to 1900.[6]

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.[7][8][9][10] In 1894, she opened a private gynaecological practice in the Seefield district of Zurich, which she operated until 1923.[3][7] 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.[11][3] The word lesbian was not in common use at the time, but in describing their relationship, Moser specifically called it "lesbian love".[12]

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.[3] 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.[13] Willdenow later volunteered as a doctor in a Berlin clinic. She died on 4 July 1931 in Zurich.[7]

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