Rahel Hirsch

born on 09/15/1870 in Frankfurt am Main
died on 10/08/1953 in London

DGIM Member 1913 – 1932

Rahel Hirsch was born in Frankfurt am Main as the sixth of eleven children of the Jewish teacher Dr. phil. Mendel Hirsch and his wife Dorothea, née Ballin (1843–1914).1 Her father taught at the Realschule and Höhere Töchterschule of the Jewish Community in Frankfurt. Her grandfather, reform rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, was one of the founders of neo-orthodoxy, which balanced Orthodox life with participation in the non-Jewish environment. One of her nephews was the Frankfurt internist Samson Hirsch (1890–1960), who also had to emigrate.

Teacher and Physician

Rahel Hirsch attended her father's school and successfully completed studies at the teacher training college in Wiesbaden in 1898. She taught at her old school for a short time, but took up medical studies in Zurich in 1898 and earned the Swiss Maturiat (1899). Women were only gradually granted the right to enrol for medical studies in Germany from 1900. Some medical faculties, however, allowed the continuation of studies that had been taken up abroad as well as admission to the state examination. Thus Rahel Hirsch also studied in Leipzig and Strasbourg. She received her German license to practice medicine in 1903, after passing the state examination in Strasbourg and having received her doctorate in medicine (Dr. med.) with a thesis on glycolysis, which she wrote under Franz Hofmeister (1850–1922).2
She obtained an (unpaid) position as an intern at the II Medical Clinic of the Berlin Charité under Friedrich Kraus (1858–1936). She was the second female physician to be employed at the Charité after Helenefriederike Stelzner (1861–1937). She also undertook scientific research here. 


Hirsch demonstrated in 1906 that "starch granules," large corpuscular particles composed of several simple sugars, can enter the blood through the mucosa of the small intestine and be excreted in the urine.3According to the doctrine of the time, only significantly smaller particles could be absorbed by the intestine. At a lecture on this process, later referred to as the "Hirsch effect," she earned the ridicule and scorn of the Society of Physicians of the Charité in November 1907.4 Although her experiments were confirmed by the physiologist Fritz Verzár (1886–1979) in 1911, they did not receive recognition and lasting appreciation until 1957, when Theodor Brugsch's assistant Gerhard Volkheimer (1921–2021) repeated the experiments and confirmed them.5

In addition to the absorption studies described above, Hirsch conducted research in other areas of (patho)physiology, including fever and temperature regulation, endocrine secretion, and renal physiology. She published a total of about 35 scientific papers. She also wrote a "Therapeutisches Taschenbuch der Elektro- und Strahlentherapie" (1920) as well as making contributions to the handbooks on biochemistry and "Spezielle Pathologie und Therapie innerer Krankheiten" published by Carl Oppenheimer and Kraus and Brugsch, respectively.6

First Female Professor in Prussia

Hirsch was entrusted with leading the polyclinic of the II Medical Clinic of the Charité in 1908. Although she was unable to habilitate as a woman (the right for women to habilitate was only introduced in 1920), she was the third woman in Germany and the first woman in Prussia to be awarded the title of professor in 1913. She was admitted to the DGIM the same year as the first 7(and until 1921 the only) woman, and also to the renowned Berlin Medical Society.

She left the Charité and settled as a physician for internal diseases in 1919. She had already been practicing at Schöneberger Ufer 31 while still working at the hospital. She had her practice at Königin-Augusta-Strasse 22 from 1919, and at Kurfürstendamm 220 from 1928. She made increasing use of the diagnostic and therapeutic possibilities of radiation therapy in her last practice, which was equipped with modern X-ray machines.

Commitment to Public Health

Hirsch was not a member of the Association of German Women Physicians or any other professional or health policy associations. Nevertheless, she was very committed to women's interests. She advocated gender-specific health advice, pleaded for overcoming outdated role models, and spoke out in favor of comfortable clothing and exercise, especially after pregnancy. She published her book "Körperkultur der Frau" on this topic in 1913.8

Upheaval in 1933 – Poverty and Disease in London

Following the National Socialist rise to power, Hirsch's health insurance license was revoked in April 1933 and she was deprived of the right to treat privately insured patients in 1934.9 Her license to practice medicine was revoked in September 1938.

Rahel Hirsch decided to flee Germany and emigrated to London at the beginning of October 1938. She renounced her English license to practice medicine, as this would have required renewed studies and exams and she was already 68 years old at this point. She first worked as a laboratory assistant and then as a translator. She faced financial hardship and had to rely on the support of charitable organizations. Being in exile also weighed heavily on her emotionally. She became mentally ill and was repeatedly hospitalized. She died in a "mental house" at the age of 83.

Rahel Hirsch was never married and had no children. At least two of her siblings perished in German concentration camps.


There is a bronze sculpture of Hirsch on the grounds of Berlin's Charité hospital, which was unveiled in 1995. Furthermore, the Charité has been awarding the Rahel Hirsch Fellowship – a postdoctoral fellowship for young female scientists – since 1999.10A memorial plaque commemorates Hirsch at Kurfürstendamm 220, and a street in Berlin-Moabit is named after her. A Berlin senior high school center was named for her in 2015.11


This biograph can also be found in a very similar format in: Vina Zielonka/Ralf Forsbach/Hans-Georg Hofer/Ulrich R. Fölsch, Gegen das Vergessen: Jüdische Ärztinnen der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Innere Medizin im Porträt, in: Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift 147 (2022), pp. 1596–1604, pp. 1596. For biography see, among others, Benjamin Kuntz et al., Rahel Hirsch. Zum 150. Geburtstag der ersten Medizinprofessorin Deutschlands, in: Deutsche Medizinische Wochenschrift 145 (2020), p. 1840–1847; Gerhard Volkheimer, Rahel Hirsch, in: Neue Deutsche Biographie 9 (1972), p. 209 ff., also accessible at: (accessed 03/14/2022); Hedvah Ben Zev, Rahel Hirsch. Preußens erste Medizinprofessorin, Berlin 2005 (= Jüdische Miniaturen, Vol. 24); Eva Brinkschulte, Professor Dr. Rahel Hirsch (1870–1853) – der erste weibliche Professor – vertrieben, verfolgt, vergessen, in: Dies. (Hg.), Weibliche Ärzte. Die Durchsetzung des Berufsbildes in Deutschland, Berlin 1995, pp. 103–133.See Rahel Hirsch, Ein Beitrag zur Lehre von der Glykolyse, Diss. med. Strassburg 1903.See Rahel Hirsch, Ueber das Vorkommen von Stärkekörnern im Blut und Urin, in: Zeitschrift für experimentelle Pathologie und Therapie 3 (1906), pp. 390-392.See Annette Kerckhoff, Rahel Hirsch, in: Dies., Heilende Frauen, München 2010, p. 46–47; Eva-Bettina Bröcker, Frau Doktor - und was dann? Keynote lecture at the graduation ceremony of the Medical Faculty at the Neubaukirche of the University of Würzburg on May 16, 2003, in: Würzburger medizinhistorische Mitteilungen 23 (2004), pp. 589-592.See Gerhard Volkheimer, Der Uebergang kleiner fester Theilchen aus dem Darmcanal in den Milchsaft und das Blut, in: Wiener Medizinische Wochenschrift 114 (1964), no. 51/52; Gerhard Volkheimer et al, Über bemerkenswerte Eliminationsfähigkeit der glomerulären Gefäße, in: Das Deutsche Gesundheitswesen 20 (1964), H. 1; J. Kohn, L'effet Hirsch, in: amif, Revue de l'Association des Médecins Israélites de France 16 (1967).See Rahel Hirsch, Therapeutisches Taschenbuch der Elektro- und Strahlentherapie, Berlin 1920; Carl Oppenheimer, Handbuch der Biochemie des Menschen und der Tiere, Jena 1909–1913; Friedrich Kraus/Theodor Brugsch, Spezielle Pathologie und Therapie innerer Krankheiten, Berlin/Wien 1919.In 1882, the founding year of the DGIM, Mathilde von Wulffert (1856-1927) was the only woman among 162 members. Nevertheless, von Wulffert, who was working as a physician in Paris was no longer listed in the membership directory; see Verhandlungen der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Innere Medizin 1 (1882), p. 5 (and subsequent volumes).See Rahel Hirsch, Körperkultur der Frau, Wien 1913.See Stephan Leibfried/Florian Tennstedt (eds.), Berufsverbote und Sozialpolitik 1933. Die Auswirkungen der nationalsozialistischen Machtergreifung auf die Krankenkassenverwaltung und die Kassenärzte, Bremen 1982, p. 257.See Charité Denkmäler berühmter Politiker und Wissenschaftler, accessable at: (accessed on 03/14/2022); zum Rahel-Hirsch-Stipendium: (accessed on 3/14/2022).See homepage of the Rahe-Hirsch school (accessed 3/14/2022).

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