Dorothea Erxleben

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Dorothea Erxleben
German stamp issued in 1987 in the Women in German history series
Born 13 November 1715
Quedlinburg, Germany
Died 13 June 1762 (aged 46)
Quedlinburg, Germany
Nationality Germany
Fields Medicine
Influences Laura Bassi

Dorothea Christiane Erxleben née Leporin (13 November 1715, Quedlinburg – 13 June 1762 in Quedlinburg) was the first female medical doctor in Germany.[1]

Erxleben was instructed in medicine by her father from an early age.[2] The Italian scientist Laura Bassi's university professorship inspired Erxleben to fight for her right to practise medicine. In 1742 she published a tract arguing that women should be allowed to attend university.[3] In 1754, She was the first German woman to receive a PhD.

After being admitted to study by a dispensation of Frederick the Great,[2] Erxleben received her M.D. from the University of Halle in 1754.[3] She went on to analyse the obstacles preventing women from studying, among them housekeeping and children.[2]

Personal life

She was the mother of Johann Christian Polycarp Erxleben. Erxleben and her brother, Christian Polycarp Leporin, studied basic science, Latin, and medicine with their father, Christian Polycarp Leporin.[4][5] Her father was a physician at Quedlinburg in Prussia. She practiced medicine on poor people.[5] The idea of a woman studying medicine was shocking at the time and a point was made that since women were not allowed to hold public office by law, they also shouldn’t practice medicine or need a medical degree. Three doctors of Quedlinburg accused her of quackery and demanded that she sit an examination. The rector of the University of Halle decided that practicing medicine was not the same as holding public office and allowed Erxleben to take her examination. She took her examinations and was given her degree on June 12, 1754.[6]


Erxleben studied the medical theory of Georg Ernst Stahl, which was connected with Pietism. This influenced her to challenge the theological and philosophical groundwork of why women were placed in a subordinate position. Predicting criticism from both sexes, Erxleben addressed male and female readers. She used the language of modesty, a common method used by women in the Querelle des Femmes, while addressing male readers. She is more direct and critical of women’s excuses that are used to avoid educating themselves to improve their lives. She recognized that some women are occupied with physically demanding work of caring for the household and have little time to educate themselves. Despite this, she still criticized them for lacking the drive to get an education.[7]


D. Erxleben: Gründliche Untersuchung der Ursachen, die das weibliche Geschlecht vom Studiren abhalten. 1742.

See also


  1. Schiebinger, L. (1990): "The Anatomy of Difference: Race and Sex in Eighteenth-Century Science", pg. 399, Eighteenth Century Studies 23(3) pgs. 387-405
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Sutherland, M. (1985): Women Who Teach in Universities (Trentham Books) pg. 118
  3. 3.0 3.1 Offen, K. (2000): European Feminisms, 1700-1950: A Political History (Stanford University Press), pg. 43
  4. "Erxleben, Dorothea (1715–1762)." HighBeam Research, n.d. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Erxleben, -LSB-néeleporin-RSB-Dorothea(Christiana). (2005). In The Palgrave MacMillan dictionary of women's biography. Retrieved from
  6. "Erxleben , Dorothea Christiana Leporin (1715 - 1762)." The Cambridge Dictionary of Scientists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Credo Reference. Web. 24 November 2014.
  7. Poeter, Elisabeth. “Gender, Religion, and Medicine in Enlightenment Germany: Dorothea Christiane Leporin’s Treatise on the Education of Women.” NWSA Journal 20.1 (Spring 2008): 99-119. JSTOR. Web. 24 November 2014.

Further reading

  • Women in Science: Antiquity Through the Nineteenth Century : a Biographical Dictionary with Annotated Bibliography, By Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie.

External links