Sponer, Hertha, 1895-1968

Alternative names
Birth 1895-09-01
Death 1968-02-27

Biographical notes:

Hertha Sponer, 1895-1968, was a German physicist who became, in 1926, only the second woman awarded the Habilitation in her field--qualification to teach physics at the university level in Germany. She left Germany in 1934, taught two years in Norway and Spain, and arrived at Duke University in 1936, where she became the first woman appointed to its Physics Department faculty. She conducted research and taught at Duke until 1965, supervising thirty-five masters and doctoral degree graduates.

  • 1895 Sept. 1: Born in Neisse, Prussia (today Nysa, Poland)
  • 1918: Transferred from University of Tübingen to University of Göttingen
  • 1920: Awarded Ph.D in physics, adviser Peter Debye
  • 1920 - 1921 : Became assistant to James Franck at Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Chemistry, Division of Physics, Dahlem (Berlin)
  • 1925: Awarded Venia Legendi and Habilitation (qualification to teach at university level)
  • 1925 - 1926 : Awarded Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship to study at the Department of Physics, University of California Berkeley
  • 1933: Charles W. Edwards, Chair of Duke University Physics Department, first contacted by Rockefeller Foundation about Sponer's possible availability
  • 1934: Tentatively accepted offer from Edwards of guest professorship at Duke, but preferred to remain in Europe
  • 1934 Sept. - 1934 Oct. : Left Germany for Norway, to begin guest professorship at University of Oslo
  • 1935: January, contacted again by Charles Edwards about a position at Duke; May, accepted "trial half-year," to begin Feb. 1, 1936
  • 1935 - 1936 : Published "Molekülspektren I"(Molecular Spectra and Their Application to Chemical Problems Vol. I and II)
  • 1936: Appointed to Duke University faculty as Professor of Physics
  • 1939 - 1940 : Joined with Lise Meitner and other scientists in letter-writing campaign to assist Jewish physicist Hedwig Kohn in emigrating from Germany
  • 1940 - 1942 : Served as Associate Editor of The Journal of Chemical Physics
  • 1946 June 29: Married James Franck, Chicago
  • 1949: Spectroscopy laboratory moved to new Physics Building, Duke University
  • 1952: Arranged Duke Physics research associateship for Hedwig Kohn, following Kohn's retirement from Wellesley
  • 1952 - 1953 : Awarded Guggenheim Fellowship to fund guest professorship at Uppsala University, Sweden
  • 1962: Research and lecture trip to Japan and India
  • 1964 May 21: James Franck died in Göttingen
  • 1965 Sept. 1: Retired from Duke University
  • 1966: Named Professor Emeritus in Physics
  • 1966: Moved to Celle, Germany, to be near her sister and nephew
  • 1968 Feb. 17: Died in Ilten, near Hannover

From the guide to the Hertha Sponer Papers, 1917-1967, (University Archives, Duke University)


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