Margarete (Rita) Janke-Garzuly

Many 'firsts' and a broken career

Titel

a.o. Prof. Dipl.-Ing. Dr. techn.

 

Date of birth and death

Born Sept. 15th, 1897 in Orsova (at the time in the Hungarian part of Austria-Hungary, present-day Rumania) as Margarete (Rita) Garzuly.
Died 1.12.1972 in Vienna.

Margarete Garzuly was the daughter of a chief inspector of the Hungarian River and Sea Shipping Company and received her schooling at a girls’ secondary school and at a teacher training institute. She took her middle school certificate (Realschulmatura) as an external student.

She studied chemistry at the universities of Vienna and Budapest (1917 – 1919). After the admission of women at colleges of technology, she changed to the Vienna College of Technology (TH Wien) in autumn 1919. There she passed her 2nd state examination (II. Staatsprüfung) in 1921. In July 1923 she was the first woman to be awarded a doctorate at the TH Wien.

In 1926, she married Dr. Alexander Janke, who was an assistant professor at the time. In the same year, a daughter was born.

From autumn 1921, she was employed at the college as a full-time research assistant, at first at the chair of inorganic chemistry (Prof. Bamberger), from 1925 at the chair of organic chemistry (Prof. Böck). In May 1932, her working hours where halved as an austerity measure (Austria was suffering the effects of the world economic crisis), and as of September 1932 she was dismissed on the grounds of incompatibility because her husband had been appointed full professor of biochemical technology at her department.

Nevertheless, she continued to do research. She went on two research sabbaticals, to the tropical disease institute in Hamburg with Gustav Giemsa in 1932/33, and to London in 1937. She worked without pay at her husband’s chair.

In 1940, she submitted her ‘Habilitation’, the first woman to do so at the TH Wien, in the subject of “Organic Chemistry with Special Consideration of Biochemistry”, and was appointed a university lecturer in 1941. She then lectured in biochemistry, supervised tutorials and practicals (at the time, she was the only lecturer available for this subject at the Vienna college), and in 1944/45 she stood in at the chair, as her husband was unable to fulfil his duties because of a chronic illness. She also oversaw the relocation of parts of the department to shelter from allied air raids. In spite of all this, she had no permanent employment and only received a very low compensation for her activities.

In 1945, her Venia legendi was revoked with all those who had habilitated during the NS regime. Thus she was stripped of the legal title which was the base of her activities at the TH Wien. She regained her teaching qualification as late as 1955 only, and began teaching again. In 1959, she was appointed associate professor – again the first woman at the TH Wien. She lectured at the college until her death in 1972.

Margarete Janke’s research focus lay in the field of biochemistry. At first, she was mainly interested in organometallic compounds and their effects in chemotherapy. Later, she turned to microbiological questions. For a long time, she collaborated with her husband Alexander Janke, a professor of biochemical technology, in her research.

 

Surely historical circumstance was crucial for Janke’s scientific career: Without the admission of women to technical studies, her research would possibly have taken another direction (she obviously deliberately chose the chemical-technical orientation as soon as this was possible). The limited institutional base of biochemistry at academic institutions during the inter-war period seems to have helped her career on. She was able to compensate for the loss of her employment in 1932 by exploiting the possibility to work at the department of her husband, the revocation of her Venia in 1945 for political reasons, however, proved to be a decided break in her career.

Although Janke belonged to the generation of researchers who lived first and foremost for science, her professional development was nevertheless strongly affected by her belonging to the female gender. In the 1930ies, she lost the possibility of a regular and paid occupation at the college because of her status as a married woman. Her attempt to compensate for this by using her private situation as a collaborator and wife of a professor was not unconditionally successful, even though this allowed her to habilitate herself. In connection with her denazification procedures from 1945, it is hard to avoid the impression that in her case, much stricter standards were applied than with many of her male colleagues in similar situations.

This problem does not seem to have arisen for Margarete Janke. When in doubt, it seems her profession had priority. 

Sources: files of the university archive of the Vienna University of Technology
Juliane Mikoletzky, university archive of the Vienna University of Technology, February 20th, 2012