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Elise Richter

RICHTER, ELISE (1865–1943), Austrian professor of Romance languages. Born and raised in Vienna, Elise Richter was among early matriculants when the University of Vienna opened its doors to female students in 1897. Richter passed her doctoral orals in comparative linguistics summa cum laude in 1901, and her post-doctoral dissertation defense for her university teaching credential (Habilitation) in Romance philology in 1905. It took two more years before she received her official appointment as the very first Privatdozentin, or female unsalaried lecturer, in Austria. In 1921, she was promoted to the rank of untenured associate professor, another first for an Austrian woman. She taught a wide range of courses on various Romance languages and published extensively, especially in the field of historical grammar. Only in 1923, however, did she finally receive a paid university teaching contract, which guaranteed her financial independence. She continued to teach phonetics courses at the University of Vienna until she was seventy-three years old, several years past the normal age of retirement.

Elise Richter participated actively in Austrian political life during the interwar years as a member of the small liberal Bourgeois-Democratic Workers' Party. Despite her personal reticence, she helped to establish and then chaired the Federation of University Women of Austria from 1922 to 1930. This organization aimed at assisting women to break into previously inaccessible fields within academia.

After the Anschluss in March 1938, Elise Richter suffered many humiliations due to her Jewish descent. Not only was she dismissed from her teaching position, but she was also banned from using the university library and prevented from visiting museums and theaters. Her property, including her library, was confiscated and, although she continued her scholarly work until 1941, she could no longer publish in Germany. In October 1942, together with her sister, the English literary specialist Helene Richter, Elise Richter, was deported to There-sienstadt on the last large transport from Vienna; both elderly women became Holocaust victims.

Richter's students and disciples did not forget her, but continued to publish her work posthumously. The Austrian government erected a plaque in her memory as the first woman professor at the University of Vienna.


H.H. Christmann, Frau und "Jüdin" an der Universitaet: Die Romanistin Elise Richter (1980). H.P. Freidenreich, Female, Jewish, and Educated (2002); L. Spitzer and H. Adolf, "In Memoriam Elise Richter," in: Romance Philology, 1 (1947–48): 329–41; B.M. Woodbridge, Jr., "A Bibliography of the Writings of Elise Richter," in: Romance Philology, 26 (1972): 342–360.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.