Margot Becke-Goehring

Margot Becke-Goehring (1914-2009): The first female rector of a West German university

Foto: GDCh-Bildarchiv

In the course of her Career, Margot Becke-Goehring occupied several positions that had only been held by men before her. She was the first female dean and rector in the history of Heidelberg University. After leaving the university, she headed the Gmelin Institute in Frankfurt am Main.

Margot Becke-Goehring was born on June 10, 1914 in Allenstein, East Prussia. She went to school in Gera and Erfurt, where she passed the Abitur in 1933. She then studied chemistry in Halle and Munich - against the wishes of her parents. "Too hard physically, no chances for a woman," said her father, the professional officer Albert Goehring. But this assessment turned out to be wrong. Just five years after graduating from high school, his daughter received her doctorate as an academic student of the inorganic chemist Hellmuth Stamm (1901-1977) at the University of Halle. She continued her research in Halle and completed her habilitation in 1944 at the institute of the later Nobel Prize winner Karl Ziegler (1898-1973) with a paper on sulfoxylic acid. "The time of my first own work was so filled with science that when I think back today, I almost forget that there was a war," Becke-Goehring said later about the early years of her Career.
At the University of Heidelberg in 1946 she was given a position as a lecturer, but the following year she was given an extraordinary professorship for inorganic and Analytical Chemistry. At a meeting of the Heidelberg Chemical Society in 1955 she met her future husband, the industrial chemist Friedrich Becke (1910-1972). After her marriage, Becke-Goehring continued her Career at the University of Heidelberg. In 1959 she became a full professor and in 1961 she became the first woman dean of the natural science and mathematics faculty there. But that's not all: in 1966 she crowned her academic Career with the election of rector of Heidelberg University. This made her the first female rector of a West German university.

The rectorate fell at a time of upheaval, which Becke-Goehring helped to shape. Among other things, she initiated new curricula and advocated student funding, which later became the Federal Training Assistance Act (Bafög). The student unrest of the 1960s, which was very pronounced in Heidelberg, presented the chemist with a considerable challenge. Becke-Goehring described the ?crowd with raised fists, ready to violence? as oppressive, but at the same time emphasized in retrospect: ?I could say what I had to say, clarify my legal position. ... At that time you could still assert yourself if you had just a little courage; one could advocate the rule of law without the police. ?However, when it became apparent that the university's new constitution contradicted her ideas, she resigned from her position and shortly thereafter resigned from the civil service. In 1969 she left the University of Heidelberg.

From 1969 until her retirement ten years later, Becke-Goehring headed the Gmelin Institute for Inorganic Chemistry and Border Areas in Frankfurt am Main. The main purpose of the institute, which belonged to the Max Planck Society, was to publish Gmelin's Handbook of Inorganic Chemistry. Until the institute was dissolved in 1997, the work brought together the entire knowledge of inorganic chemistry.
Becke-Goehring has been honored several times for her services. She was the first woman to receive the Alfred Stock Memorial Prize from the GDCh in 1961 and the Gmelin-Beilstein Memorial Medal in 1980. The University of Stuttgart awarded her an honorary doctorate.

Margot Becke-Goehring died on November 14th, 2009 at the age of 95 in Heidelberg. Her life's work has been preserved for posterity in many books and in over 300 scientific publications, especially on sulfur, phosphorus and nitrogen chemistry.


  • H. Eberle: The Martin Luther University in the time of National Socialism, Mdv, Halle, 2002, p. 412, ISBN 3-89812-150-X
  • E. Fluck: Margot Becke, obituary in the annual report of the Max Planck Society, 2009, Beileger, pp. 18-19
  • M. Becke-Goehring, D. Mussgnug: Memories - almost gone with the wind. Heidelberg University between 1933-1968, Verlag Dieter Winkler, Bochum, 2005
  • German Chemical Society (GDCh): Female chemists - there were and there are, brochure, 2003, p. 23

The texts published in this series do not claim to be scientific publication. Authors and other persons involved are not experts in the history of science. The purpose of the series is to introduce the mostly unknown chemists and to remind them of the well-known chemists. We encourage readers who want to know more to study scientific sources on the women presented. In some cases there are detailed chemical-historical studies.

Prof. Dr. Eberhard Ehlers
Prof. Dr. Heribert Offermanns

Editorial editing
Dr. Uta Neubauer

Project management
Dr. Karin J. Schmitz (GDCh Public Relations)

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last modified: 05.07.2021 11:15 H from K.J.Schmitz