The First Female Chemist at BASF

The First Female Chemist at BASF

Author: ChemistryViews

Lili Wachenheim was the first female chemist to do research in a BASF laboratory. Gisela Boeck, Technical University of Riga, Latvia, and Deputy Chair of the History of Chemistry division of the GDCh (German Chemical Society), writes that Lili Wachenheim was born on April 23, 1893, in Mannheim, Germany, as the second daughter of a banker. She matriculated at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, in October 1911 and studied chemistry under Theodor Curtius (1857 – 1928) and Emil Knoevenagel (1865 – 1921), among others. Probably in the fall of 1916, she received her Ph.D. with “summa cum laude” under Max Trautz (1880 – 1960) with a thesis “On the decay equilibrium of nitrosyl chloride”.

Until the end of 1917, Lili Wachenheim worked as a Research Assistant with Max Bodenstein (1871 – 1942) and in January 1918, she joined BASF, Ludwigshafen, Germany, as its first female chemist. When she was hired, she is said to have told the Director that although she was of Protestant religion, she was originally Jewish. The director replied, “If we’re going to hire a woman, that doesn’t matter anymore.”

At BASF, Lili Wachenheim worked in the ammonia laboratory under the direction of Alwin Mittasch (1869 – 1953). Mittasch was a chemist of Sorbian descent who was best known for his pioneering work on catalyst development for ammonia synthesis using the Haber–Bosch process. Wachenheim submitted, among other things, a research report entitled “On the Effect of Nitrogen Dioxide on Water and Nitric Acid in Various Concentrations”.

On December 31, 1918, Lili Wachenheim left BASF. She married the BASF chemist Carl Heinrich (Henry) Müller in May 1919. At the time, it was considered incompatible to be a professional and a wife. The couple had three children.

Heinrich Müller was of Protestant religion, but his wife and the children were classified as “non-Aryans” by the National Socialist legislation. Therefore, the family emigrated to the USA in December 1936. Heinrich worked in New York, USA, as Technical Adviser to the President and Executive Vice President of General Aniline & Film Corporation” (today GAF). Lili did not work in the USA either. She survived her husband and died in the USA on May 12, 1989. Her grandson remembers her as a “wonderful grandmother and very, very smart.”


 

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