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Charlotte Wolff
(September 30, 1897 - September 2, 1986) Germany - France - U.K.

Charlotte Wolff

Psychiatrist scolar


Wolff was born into a middle-class Jewish family in Riesenburg, West Prussia. The family moved to Danzig in 1913, where Wolff attended a prestigious grammar school. During a stay with a cousin in Berlin, she became acquainted with the poet and dramatist Else Lasker-Schüler. She later studied philosophy in Freiburg, Königsberg and Tübingen, and philosophy and medicine in Berlin, where she was awarded a medical doctorate in 1928.

Wolff's first medical pst was at the Wirchow hospital in Berlin. She also worked in family planning in some of the city most deprived areas. By 1932 anti-Semitism was growing extreme in Germany, and Wolff as a Jew moved to a more sheltered post in the district of Neukölln.

But she was nonetheless arrested, on charges of espionage and wearing men's clothes, and released only when a guard recognised and defended her as the wife's doctor. Three days later her apartment was searched, and Wolff decided that it was time to leave Germany. In May 1933 she emigrated to Paris.

In Neukölln she had begun to specialize in cheirology, the study of the hand, and she had deeloped a theory of diagnosis via the hand. In exile in France and England, she performed experiments publishing her results. In 1941, in recogniton of her work, she was made an honorary member of the British Psychological Society.

In Paris, Wolff shared a flat with the journalist Helen Hassel. Barred from working as a doctor, she lived from reading hands. In 1936 she moved to London with the help of Aldous and Maria Huxley. It was Maria who arranged a meeting with Virginia Woolf, whose hands Wolff analysed. In return Woolf invited Wolff to tea.

Shortly after the completion of her book The Hand in Psychological Diagnosis, Wolff was finally registered as a doctor in Britain, and could practice again. Her research diversified into lesbianism and bisexuality (Love Between Women and Bisexuality: A Study), and won international recognition in these areas, influencing particualrly the German lesbian movement of the 1970s.

In 1978 she accepted an invitation from the lesbian group L.74 (Lesbos 74) to give a reading in Berlin, her first visit to the capital since her emigration, and a year later returned again, this time to address a university summer course on "Lesbian Love and Women's Moement". In her 1980 autobiography Hindsight, she wrote about her same-sex realtionships.


Source: excerpts from: Aldrich R. & Wotherspoon G., Who's Who in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian History, from WWII to Present Day, Routledge, London, 2001 - et alii

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