Partners in Science

Josephine Marx Höber and Rudolf Höber in their Laboratory, University of Pennsylvania, 1934

Long before women were generally accepted in the medical profession and the sciences, my grandmother, Josephine, joined my grandfather, Rudolf, as a full research collaborator in the field of cellular biochemistry and human physiology.

Rudolf Höber and Josephine Marx were married in 1901.  He already had his medical degree and a teaching and research position at the University of Zürich.  In 1902, when he was 29, Rudolf published The Physical Chemistry of Cells and Tissues, a major theoretical work that would go through eight editions over the next 45 years.  He also published as many as six technical articles annually documenting the results of his laboratory research.

With Rudolf’s encouragement, Josephine entered the medical school at Zürich and obtained her degree in 1909.  She was a pioneering woman in the medical profession in Europe.  Also in 1909, Rudolf and Josephine moved to Kiel, Germany, where Rudolf became professor of physiology and Director of the Physiological Institute at the University of Kiel.  Although Josephine did not have an official position in the University, she was a partner and collaborator in Rudolf’s work, sharing his passion for the world of biochemistry, biophysics and the nature of cellular function.  The couple travelled to the Stazione Zoologica in Naples and to the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory to conduct research.  In the 1920’s, Josephine became an active participant in the laboratory work, and collaborated on several of the research articles Rudolf published both in German and in English.

When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, they expelled Rudolf from his position at the University of Kiel.  Anxious to continue his life’s work, he accepted an invitation from the University of Pennsylvania to become a visiting professor at the medical school there, and he and Josephine moved to Philadelphia in 1934.  The University, however, did not provide him with the kind of laboratory, apparatus and assistance that he had had at the University of Kiel.  Although he received some financial support from American foundations, including the American Philosophical Society, Rudolf was frustrated by the limited facilities and staff available to him.  Part of the solution was that Josephine joined him in the lab on a full time basis – without pay.

Rudolf and Josephine were equal partners in the lab for many years.  The articles they wrote and published jointly continued to make findings in physiology that remain foundational in biotechnical work being done today.

Here is one of the articles Rudolf and Josephine co-authored, as published in the Journal of General Physiology:


To read the complete article, click here


3 Comments on “Partners in Science”

  1. Katherine Parkin says:

    Fascinating. When did shifting tides make “hard” science more respected here? Was it the Nazis through the Manhattan Project that sparked our belief in its importance, or did it take the Cold War? It’s a thread in the posts you’ve had that they got more respect/$ in Germany and there’s still a sense that Dr commands more respect there — and only scoffs here. Great stuff.

  2. […] line of women for whom nontraditional roles were a tradition.  My mother was a PhD economist.  My grandmother was a physician an biochemical research scientist.  My great grandmother was a portrait artist of […]

  3. […] were owned by his widow, Marie, and when she died in 1913 they were inherited by my grandparents, Rudolf Höber and Josephine Marx Höber.  At that time, Rudolf and Josephine lived on Hegewischstrasse in Kiel, a university city and […]

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